Curlew – 1994

Numenius arquata – GYLFINIR – Breeding resident, winter visitor and passage migrant

Breeding confirmed2
Breeding probable6
Breeding possible6
No of tetrads occupied14 (of 478)
Percentage of tetrads2.9%

According to Mathew (1894) curlews bred on the Preseli Mountains and occasionally on Skomer.  Lockley et al (1949) stated that they were not common as a breeding bird before the early 1930s, but greatly increased afterwards to breed throughout the county, including Ramsey and Skomer but not the Castle Martin peninsula, being most numerous in the north.  Lloyd’s diaries indicate that they were a widespread breeding species in Pembrokeshire by 1927.  The breeding range extended to the Castle Martin peninsula in about 1950 (Lockley 1961)

Extensive land reclamation and drainage was to follow, while traditional grazing of common land decreased, modifying the tussocky structure and permitting invasion by scrub.  The curlew’s breeding range retracted and Saunders (1976) found them nesting in only small numbers.  The decline continued, curlews last occupying breeding grounds at Rosebush in 1980, Slade Bottom near Puncheston and Dowrog common in 1983.  The Breeding Birds Survey of 1984-1988 found only about 20 pairs, 13 on Skomer and the rest on bogs in the Preseli Mountains, although they were also present in the breeding season in the meadows around the junctions of the rivers Syfynwy and Easter Cleddau.

They are much more widespread outside the breeding season.  A few non-breeders are present in late May and early June, numbers building up quickly during July and peaking in September before settling back to the winter level.  A rapid departure takes place in March and early April,  Numbers reach 600 on the Teifi estuary, up to 450 on the Nevern estuary, and 100 in Fishguard Harbour, but they are not confined to estuaries, being found also on beaches and field all around the coastline, as well as on the offshore islands.  The average total mid-winter population is probably about 3000 birds.

They migrate by day as well as by night, being seen flying in off the sea along the snorth coast and down the west coast in autumn, and arriving from the south of the southern shores in the spring.  They are not infrequently heard passing over the county at night, and have been noted at lighthouse attractions at the Smalls and Strumble Head. 

Ringing has shown that curlews from northern Britain and Finland visit Pembrokeshire.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

LOCKLEY R. M. 1961. The south-west peninsula. Nature in Wales 7: 124-133.

SAUNDERS, D.R. 1976. A brief guide to the birds of Pembrokeshire. Five Arches Press.

More about the Curlew in Pembrokeshire