By Fouad Itani
Curlews are the largest waders from the Scolopacidae family to occur in Lebanon. They are given their name by their loud and distinctive “curl-ooo” call they produce. Two species have been recorded in the country so far ; The Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus),and the Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata). They measure 55 cm in length, with a wingspan of 90 cm and an average weight of 400 g.
Both species are closely related, and unless you see them side by side it’s often hard to tell the them apart. They are large, brownish, and streaked, with the Whimbrel being slightly smaller in size, a bit darker, with a shorter bill that is decurved near the tip, and has a dark crown and dark eye stripes.
Curlews are usually found in coastal wetlands, muddy shores of lakes and rivers, and on rocky shores. During migrations, they can also be found in farmland and in wet grassland.
With their distinctive long and down-curved bills, curlews are able to consume a wide variety of food by pecking and deep probing in mud or damp soil. They will pretty much feed on anything they can catch such as crabs, insects, worms, crustaceans, small fish, amphibians, lizards, young birds, small rodents, seeds and berries.
The breeding season takes place during spring time, curlews will usually build their nests in grass cover. The nest is a large depression on the ground lined with fine grass and some feathers. The female lays 4 brownish eggs with dark markings. Both sexes will incubate for four weeks and take care of the chicks after that.
In Lebanon curlews are rare passage migrants recorded mainly on coasts and islands. Locally people do not differentiate between the two waders, both species are referred to as “Water Curlews” (Karawan Mayy), and unfortunately they are still being shot by irresponsible hunters.
Even though curlews are protected under the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), their numbers are in a continuous decline due to loss of their habitat, farming practices, and illegal hunting.