common curlew defined in 1930 yearcommon curlew - Common Curlew;
common curlew - General plumage reddish ash mottled with dusky spots; belly nearly white, with dusky streaks; rump and tail-coverts white; tail-feathers barred with dark brown. Length of the female, which is the larger, twenty-one to twenty-six inches.
The curlew is the largest of its order in the British Islands; even the large woodcock looks small besides him, and among diminutive stints and sandpipers he is a veritable giant. An imperfect ibis in figure, in a pale sandy brown dress with dusky mottlings, he is, perhaps, the least handsome of the Limicolse; in character he is one of the most interesting. What marvellously keen senses, what unfailing wariness and alertness must this large, inland-breeding species possess to keep its hold on existence in so many localities in this populous country in spite of incessant persecution I Most vigilant of birds, he is not vigilant on his own account only. He is the unsleeping sentinel of all the wild creatures that are pursued by man, warning them of danger with piercing cries that none fail to understand. The redshank, greenshank, and many other species, in this and other orders, are equally vociferous in the presence of danger, and their warnings are as promptly obeyed by all wild creatures that live with or near them; but a curious feature about the curlew is that he appears to take an intelligent interest in the welfare of beings not of his own species, and that he is distressed if they fail to act on his signal. In Yarrell's ' British Birds ' (4th edit. vol. III.) Howard Saunders gives a striking instance of this characteristic. He describes seeing one of these birds, ' after shrieking wildly over the head of a sleeping seal, swoop down, and apparently flick with its wings the unsuspecting animal, upon which the stalker was just raising his rifle.' This, to my mind, is a far more wonderful instance of the help-giving instinct in the lower animals than that related by Edwards of Banff, in which a number of terns swooped down upon one of their number which he had wounded and was pursuing, and, taking its wings in their beaks, raised it, and bore it away out to sea beyond his reach. The case of the curlew reminds us rather of the action of the rhinoceros-bird in waking the rhinoceros on the appearance of an enemy; but between curlew and seal there is no such thing as commensalism. and no tie, excepting the common knowledge that they are living creatures, and must fly for life at the approach of man, their deadliest enemy, on account of his superior cunning and his power to slay them at long distances.
During a greater part of the year the curlew is a shore-bird, seeking its food on the sand-flats which become covered at high water. When the tide overflows the flats the birds go inland, often to a distance of several miles from the sea, and wait there until the tide turns. They appear to know just when this occurs, however far from the shore they may be, and, rising and calling to each other, set out on their return, to arrive at the exact time when feeding may begin. It is during these journeys to and fro between the sea and the moors that the curlew looks at his best when, seen at a moderate distance, he passes in small flocks, disposed in the form of a wedge, or letter V, his sharp-pointed wings and long, ibis-like beak clearly outlined against the blue sky. To most lovers of nature and wild bird life the voice of the curlew is his principal attraction. He is very loquacious, and his ordinary cry of two notes, from which he takes his name, is singularly clear, far-reaching, and wild in character. His night cries have given rise to some curious and gloomy superstitions in Scotland, where the curlew is called' whaup.' According to Yarrell, the bird is a ' long-nebbit thing,' from which the Highlander prays to be delivered, classing it with ' witches and warlocks.' In the same work we read: ' Saxby says that the Shetlanders regard with horror the very idea of using so uncanny a bird as food; in fact, a visitor who did so was afterwards alluded to, almost in a whisper, as " the man that ate the whaup." ' Long may the ' long-nebbit things ' continue to exist, to delight and invigorate us with their wild voices!
In spring - early in April as a rule - the curlews begin to forsake their feeding-grounds on the sandbanks and go inland to breed; but some unpaired or non-breeding birds remain through the summer by the sea. Wild extensive moors are its favourite summer haunts. ' Its breeding-range,' Seebohm says, ' is similar to that of the red grouse and ring-ouzel.' Its nesting-place, as a rule, is on the flat and boggy parts of the moor, and the nest is not unfrequently placed among reeds or rushes. The three or four eggs are olive- green, blotched and spotted with dark brown and dusky green. The young birds when hatched have short, straight, plover-like bills.
The family Scolopacidœ, which comprises the phalaropes, avocet, snipes, sandpipers, godwits, the curlew, and whimbrel, numbers thirty-four (so-called) British species. Eighteen have been fully described, including the ruff, now extinct as a breeder, and fallen to the position of a mere straggler in this country. The ruff is one of three interesting and handsome species in this family of birds which have been extirpated in England during the present century. Another is the avocet (Recurvirostra avocetta), a singular wader, conspicuous and beautiful in black and white plumage, with a long bill, curved upwards. It bred in large numbers in fens and marshes in the eastern countries; but since about 1825, when it finally ceased to visit its old haunts in summer, it has been known only as a rare straggler. The third extirpated species is the fine black- tailed godwit (Limosa melanura), which bred annually in Norfolk and the neighbouring county until about 1835. It is now a visitor on migration, in very small numbers, to the east coast. The bar- tailed godwit, which has never bred in the British Islands, also appears occasionally in small numbers during migration. It breeds in northern Europe. The black-winged stilt, which resembles the avocet in its black and white dress, but has longer legs and a straight bill, is a rare straggler from southern Europe. Of several species of sandpipers that appear as stragglers on our coasts during migration, there are two that have some claim to be regarded as British species. One is the wood-sandpiper (Totanus glareola), which comes nearest to the green bandpiper is size, colour, and general appearance. It appears on the east and south coasts in autumn, in small flocks composed of young birds. The wood- sandpiper is known to have bred on one occasion in this country - at Prestwich Car, in Northumberland, in 1853. The second species is the spotted redshank, a rare and irregular visitor during migration, chiefly to the eastern counties. Its winter plumage is ash- grey above and white beneath; in summer it differs from all other sandpipers in its dark hue, the general colour being sooty black, the upper parts studded with triangular spots of pure white. It breeds in northern Europe in wooded situations, and is partial to burnt grounds, where its dark plumage assimilates in colour to (he charred wood and blackened earth. Lake the redshank, it is, when breeding, exceedingly vigilant and noisy when approached.
Eight species, all rare stragglers, remain to be mentioned: the broad-billed sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, Bonaparte's sandpiper, American stint, buff-breasted sandpiper, Bartram's sandpiper, red- breasted snipe, and Esquimaux curlew. With the exception of the first, which breeds in northern Europe and winters in Africa, these are all American species, breeding in or near the arctic regions, and migrating in autumn to South America, in some cases as far south as Patagonia.
Roughly speaking, we may say that, of the thirty-four species of the snipe family described in most ornithological works as 'British,' seventeen or eighteen are breeders in or annual visitants to this country; six are occasional visitors - two or three of these are perhaps, annual visitors, but in very small numbers; and the remaining ten are all rare stragglers.
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