The number of breeding curlew pairs in Ireland fell in 2021 compared to 2020, the 2021 Curlew Conservation report shows.

There were between 36 and 66 pairs recorded this year, with at least 17 fledglings recorded from those pairs.

The number of confirmed breeding pairs in the areas covered by the curlew action teams involved in the project since 2017 had remained relatively stable until 2020, but dropped significantly in 2021.

Of the 36 pairs for which breeding was confirmed in 2021, at least 22 reached hatching stage (61%), with a minimum of 57 chicks hatched, the report found. A minimum of nine pairs produced fledglings (possibly others did so but were not confirmed), so the breeding success rate was at least 25%.

The total number of juveniles recorded to have fledged was at least 17, but again, it may have been more.

All key indicators for the curlew in 2021 were down on 2020.

“This is disappointing given breeding productivity in previous seasons suggested the threshold for a viable population was being met,” according to the report.

“The decline in breeding pairs could be indicative of an aged population. The fact that the total maximum number of pairs appears stable should leave no room for complacency.

“Many of those pairs never seemed to have made it to nesting stage – a very worrying situation.

“The loss of a single Irish breeding curlew at any time in the year could be the difference between a pair being active or not in future years.

“Overall, it is worrying that the minimum number of pairs hatching chicks has decreased, and that the minimum breeding productivity (number of minimum chicks fledged divided by number of confirmed breeding pairs) also decreased slightly in 2021.”

‘Virtually extinct’

The 2021 report identifies that the predation of curlew nests is excessive and population viability analysis shows that in the absence of action, the curlew will become virtually extinct as a native Irish breeding bird after 2025.

“Large-scale afforestation of curlew breeding grounds including peatlands and high nature-value farming lands in the last 30-40 years has provided the curlew’s natural predators with new areas of cover, shelter and breeding habitat,” it said.

While the report said that habitat loss, degradations, fragmentation and wildfires in certain parts of the country are pressing issues for the future of the bird, it did say that cold early spring weather might go some way towards explaining the relatively poor breeding success of Irish curlew in 2021.

Greater intervention will be required to ensure the survival of the bird, it said.