Eastern curlews are a miracle of nature. And they are disappearing fast
Harry Saddler. The Guardian. 01/08/2019
This remarkable bird flies from Siberia to Australia and back every year, but we must save the unglamorous mudflats if it is to survive.
…But fewer eastern curlews are reaching old age. The global population has crashed by 80% in the past 30 years. The intertidal mudflats that they need to fuel their epic migrations are increasingly home instead to factories, and ports, and farms. And marinas: as the ABC’s Background Briefing reported, Toondah Harbour 30km east of Brisbane is the subject of a development proposal that would turn vital Ramsar-listed eastern curlew habitat into “residential, retail, marina development, hotel, port facilities and tourism infrastructure”.
Although we love the coast, we love only a very specific kind of coast: golden sandy beaches and deep blue bays. Shallow seas over vast mudflats don’t catch our imagination, or our hearts, regardless of how rich the ecosystem of invertebrates and birds they sustain is. But the threats that eastern curlews are facing right now demand that we re-assess what we value.
For all of its extraordinary feats and attributes, the most extraordinary thing about the eastern curlew is that it isn’t so extraordinary after all: every one of those hundred-odd species of migratory shorebird worldwide is living the same lifestyle, yo-yoing thousands of kilometres twice a year between the far north and points south.
The reason there are so many species of shorebirds is that each has evolved to feed in a slightly different niche, on slightly different prey. Each shorebird will return to the same feeding grounds year after year: when you lead such a risky life, you can’t leave anything to chance.
You stick to what you know. If the mudflats that sustain eastern curlews are destroyed, so too are mudflats that sustains whimbrels, and terek sandpipers, and bar-tailed godwits, and any of dozens of other species.
Thanks to our own actions a world of awe-inspiring animals – animals that have amazed scientists and artists and bird-lovers for countless generations – is vanishing. But if we preserve their habitat, if we learn to share the coast, if we learn to love mudflats – it won’t be just the eastern curlew that benefits.
Categories: Pestilence Update