I interrupt the promotion of Boogie Woogie Bird, my debut picture book, with an important announcement: 21 April is World Curlew Day, which is dedicated to saving endangered migratory wading curlews.
The curlew in my story isn’t a shorebird, but rather a Bush Stone-curlew, and he’s not shy about gatecrashing World Curlew Day to say g’day. Curlew wants to do his bit to raise awareness of the plight of his distant cousins, the Eastern curlew and the Eurasian curlew and similar migratory species, whose numbers are in rapid decline globally.
Some varieties of shorebirds have earned the nickname Moonbird for the fact that they typically fly the distance between the earth and the moon in their estimated 20-year lifespan.
These birds migrate between hemispheres via the East Asian-Australian Flyway, which passes 22 countries. Birds visiting Australia fly from the Siberia and the Arctic Circle. Unable to glide, soar, or land on water, Eastern curlews flap the entire distance, spending entire days and nights over oceans.
These endurance athletes of the bird world arrive on Australian shores emaciated and exhausted. Australia’s mudflats and wetlands are a choice stopover spot for 75 percent of the world’s population of Eastern curlews. While in Australia, they rest and use their long, sickle-shaped beak to dig for crabs, clams, and other treats in the mangroves and mud. Their feasting results in an increase of 80 percent of their body weight to burn off on the return flight north.
Imagine flying that distance over weeks without stopping only to find the mudflat you know, love, and yearn for is unrecognisable, having been developed into a strange marina or a canal estate.
In Desperate Decline
Eastern curlew numbers were estimated at 25,000 in 2019, and the population is dropping dramatically in other parts of the world too. Experts estimate an 80 percent decline in the past 30 years, adding it to Australia’s critically endangered list. Their European cousins, the Eurasian curlew, beloved in the UK for their beautiful song, are down in number by an estimated 30 percent.
Truly, migratory wading shorebirds like the Eastern curlew are a barometer of global health. The picture is bleak.
Call to Action
We can all do our part to preserve these endangered birds.
- Learn about the wetlands in your region and familiarise yourself with the fauna and flora. Local traditional elders can be invaluable sources of information, wisdom, and insight regarding these delicate ecosystems.
- Take an active interest in development proposals in your area. Many plans have slipped past the public’s awareness, so be vigilant. Ask questions. Talk to others. Use your vote!
- Resist development of wetlands and important feeding areas, such as Queensland’s Toondah Harbour (Moreton Bay), an internationally protected wetland under the Ramsar Convention. Despite its protected status, the area is slated for residential development. Push back against property development that disregards wildlife, upsets ecosystems, and irreversibly alters the environment. Species are at risk, including the amazing Eastern curlews.
- If you are lucky enough to live near wetlands, restrain your dogs or, better still, walk them elsewhere when the shorebirds are nesting. Curlews and other migratory birds need to rest and store energy. Any scares and sudden activity can reduce a bird’s reserves and weaken their chances of making the distance back to the Arctic Circle.
So, this World Curlew Day, 21 April 2022, Curlew and I ask you to spare a thought for his cousins, the Eastern curlew, the Eurasian curlew, and other Moonbirds—marathon flyers and miraculous creatures.
If you’re interested in Bush Stone-curlews (decidedly unmiraculous but completely delightful critters), check out my joyous picture book, Boogie Woogie Bird, which celebrates goofy dancing and finding your groove.