Country Corner


I recall away back when my son (now 36) was in primary school and played football in the village boys’ team.

Dads were conscripted to ferry the boys to and from matches. I remember, with a car load of excited laddies, motoring along the coast road. I can still hear one of them say, “Look at that bird with the big long nose!”

Needless to say, it was this bird, our largest wader, the curlew. Years later I was a gamekeeper on an Ayrshire estate with extensive high ground. In summer the sound of the moorlands was the high fluting warble of the “Whaup” to use the curlew’s Scottish name. It is a sound as iconic as the flight song of the beloved skylark with which it often forms a stereophonic symphony.

Beginner bird watchers often feel daunted by large families of similar looking birds, such as the waders.

However, as you can see from this picture, the curlew is the perfect starting point. No other bird has a bill so long or strongly curved. Watch one probing the mudflats and you will soon understand exactly what this tool is designed for. Pushing the entire bill all the way into the mud, the bird uses the sensitive, slightly flexible, leathery tip of the bill to feel for worms and other prey, before pulling them up, tweezer fashion, to be quickly swallowed before any nearby gull nips in to pinch the prize.