Curlew back and beak

Flanders Moss NNR

A bit of high speed birding again (stay safe – don’t do this at home folks) and yesterday, there in a field next to Flanders, was my first curlew of the year back on breeding territory.

It had to be said this one looked a bit bedraggled and damp around the edges as it stood motionless in the field, eyes closed in the pouring rain. But it is so good to see these birds starting to come back onto the Carse. The flat lands west of Stirling are a traditional location where these rapidly declining birds are hanging on. This year a survey is being organised to try to work out where the curlew hotspots are across the Carse so if you are a landowner and have curlews and, more importantly, willing to record your sightings then contact Mark Wilson at the BTO, email mark.wilson@bto.org.

This bird is likely to be a male as the males usually come back to the breeding territories first and it looks like a male as they have shorter bills. Looking at this one it is hard to imagine an even longer bill and more curved bill that the female has. And why is the magnificent beak curved? Well there are several suggestions but one of the most likely to me is that by having a curved bill the end of the bill is more centred in the field of vision of the bird when it is looking down. This means that as it is feeding, especially in the summer when it is picking up insects from closer to the surface of the ground rather than pushing the bill deep into estuarine mud, it has a bigger search area to look for food. Maybe to test it you could make a straight bill (like a snipe) and a curved bill and fix it onto your face and pretend to feed. Let us know what you think?

There are disadvantages of having a curved bill. It needs extra strengthening to hold it rigid and means that the tongue can’t go all the way down to the tip as it does with other straight billed species. This means that when a curlew picks up a piece of food rather than the tongue moving the food down the bill the curlew has to flip up the food and regrab it further towards the mouth. Something worth looking out for if you spend a bit of time watching these rather wonderful birds.

To remind yourself of Flanders in spring and the curlews in the area why not watch the film of the dawn chorus project from last year here

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