Curlews are pretty spectacular birds: large with amazing bills and a loud bubbling song. Once common in grasslands, wetlands and uplands across the UK they are now rare as breeders outside of the uplands. There is a pair of Curlew in the Nene Valley about six miles from my home, and I occasionally go to have a look for them from afar. They’re difficult to spot and even when I have been lucky I haven’t heard this song in my adopted county, yet.
Here is a sound you are much more likely to hear in the hills. This one from Sweden:
…and another from Finland;
…and this from Northumberland, UK:
Very bubbly aren’t they? It’s a wonderful song, and you’d think there isn’t anything like it, and for most of us in the UK there isn’t, but there are a couple of species that are quite similar.
First is the Whimbrel – a smaller version of the Curlew which breeds in Iceland, Alaska, northern Scandinavia and in Shetland in the UK. It looks pretty much like a Curlew and sounds very much like a Curlew:
Whimbrels end with long series of repeated notes just to make you think ‘Not as good as a real Curlew’.
And then there is the Stone Curlew (not a close relative at all) which sounds like a strangled Curlew;
But for most of us, in most parts of the UK, if we hear ‘cooor-lii’ it’s a Curlew.