THE call of the Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) is distinctive and evocative. It has been described as uplifting, and yet there is a plaintive, primal quality to the sound that - on a grey, windswept morning, on the upper reaches of the moor - sets a rather haunting mood. Perhaps that is why, in folklore, the Curlew has been regarded as a bad omen - a bird associated with storms and impending doom. It is sometimes linked to in the tale of the Seven Whistlers - sounds in the night sky, that some say are made by lost souls and presage disaster. On the night before a mining calamity in Hartley, Northumberland, in which 204 lives were lost, local residents reported hearing the Seven Whistlers (

In Scotland and Northumberland, Curlew are sometimes referred to as a Whaup or Whaap - the same name given to a goblin that, during the night, is said to move across the rooftops, taking the wicked.

The reality is that we are incredibly fortunate to have this iconic bird as a year-round sight and sound of Wharfedale. In the spring months, Curlews’ breeding territory includes the moorlands (see Nature Notes October, 2019). During the winter months greater concentrations feed in the lower fields, where the conditions are more forgiving and food easier to come by. On much of this farmland, where they choose to settle, there is little disturbance (no public footpaths) and the damp conditions are ideal for extracting earthworms and other invertebrates from the ground.

At this time of year, as you travel along the roads near the river (if you’re not driving) take a look over the bordering hedges. It is not unusual to see gatherings of Starlings, Corvids, Gulls, Geese, Lapwings, and perhaps a ‘curfew’ of Curlews. Yes, ‘curfew’ is one of the collective nouns for Curlews. An alternative, if you prefer, is a ‘herd’. I agree with you - a curfew of Curlews is much more pleasing - both enigmatic and alliterative.

It is possible that few, if any, of these Curlews spent the breeding season here. When it comes to finding suitable winter habitat, birds that breed in the UK tend to stay within the UK and Ireland, but generally move in a westerly or south-westerly direction. Meanwhile, Curlews that breed in northern and eastern Europe and Russia travel somewhat further, albeit in a similar direction. So, in winter, many of the birds in northern Britain have come from Fennoscandia (see