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A curlew standing on a dry stone wall in the Yorkshire Dales Photo Credit: Ian Court

Protecting our ground-nesting birds

Wednesday 20 March, 2024, by Ian Court

It is the time of year when the days start getting longer and our thoughts start turning from the dark days of winter to brighter days of spring and summer. The first snowdrops start to flower, frogspawn appears in the ponds and early lambs are seen taking their first tentative steps in the lowland pastures but the key moment for many is that time when we first hear that iconic ‘cur-lee’ call and look up and see the captivating shape of the Curlew flying overhead with its distinctive long pointed wings and down-curved bill.

In early spring they may just be on passage through the Dales, heading to breeding grounds further north but many stay in the Yorkshire Dales to breed. When days become warmer and sunnier some birds will start their territorial displays by rising above the meadows, pastures and moors uttering that poignant bubbling call before dropping back down on quivering wings. In many areas the Curlew will be accompanied by the tumbling displays of the Lapwing in flight and the strange drumming sound of displaying Snipe; a performance that once witnessed is never forgotten! Whenever these calls are heard many of you will stop and listen and say that any cares, thoughts and worries can be forgotten. This reminds us just how vital our wildlife and countryside are for our own well-being as well as for others.

An image of a curlew walking amongst cotton grass
A curlew walking in the moorland in the summer. Photo Credit: Ian Court

We are still fortunate that upland areas of the country such as the Yorkshire Dales National Park still support nationally important breeding populations of this charismatic species, with birds still present in many areas of the Dales. However, this shouldn’t be taken for granted as the Curlew is one of the most rapidly declining species in the country with numbers in the UK having been halved over the last 25 years. They are also declining across many areas of Europe and so with around 30% of this population found within the UK, we have a vital role to play to protect this species. 

Curlews are under threat because of the intensification of farming practices, predation and inappropriate woodland planting. However, there are many organisations now working to halt and reverse this decline, with a diverse and wide-ranging number of farmers and land managers all working together to protect the species.

Curlew and a wide range of other ground-nesting birds are susceptible to disturbance during the nesting period, which starts in March and carries through to the end of July. The adults need to be able to sit tight on a clutch of eggs and brood chicks to keep them warm and dry during cold weather and to keep them out of sight of predators.

These birds nest in a range of habitats from the moorland tops, to the upland pastures and lowland meadows; many of these areas are popular with walkers.

In these areas, people, especially those with dogs off leads may prevent adult birds from incubating eggs or brooding chicks which sadly inadvertently leads to a breeding failure.

This is where you can help the Curlew remain an integral part of the Dales landscape so that we, and future generations can continue to enjoy the evocative sight and sound of our breeding waders. Whilst out and about in the Dales, you can make a big difference in helping these and all ground-nesting birds by keeping your dog on a lead whilst out walking.

Find out more about walking your dog in the Yorkshire Dales.

Picture of Ian Court

Ian Court

Ian is the Authority's Wildlife Conservation Officer

One Reply to “Protecting our ground-nesting birds”

  1. Bob McPartland says:

    I’ve just spent a week in Ingleton and it was lovely to heard the sound of Curlews when I was out walking , It’s a sound I associate with Yorkshire, a real treat to hear

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