First European bird to become extinct for 150 years

A RARE SPECIES of curlew is in grave danger of becoming the first European bird to die out since the great auk more than 150 years ago.

Only nine slender-billed curlews - which breed in Russia and central Asia and winter in places such as the Mediterranean - were seen throughout the world last year.

A smaller cousin of the familiar Eurasian curlew, one of Britain's best- known wetland birds, the slender-billed has for several years been classed as "critically endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

"I suspect that, without a miracle, it will become extinct in the next decade," said Dr Will Cresswell, an Oxford University ornithology lecturer.

"One characteristic of species with very low populations - and in the case of the slender-billed curlew there could be as few as 50 left - is that they bump along for years and then something happens and they vanish for good."

Dr Cresswell joined an expedition last summer which spent 10 weeks searching the Kustani, Petyropavlovsk and Pavlodar regions of Kazakhstan for nesting grounds. Not one was found. In fact, no one has set eyes on a slender- billed curlew's nest since 1924, when one was discovered in Russia.

A big problem for conservationists is the mystery over the bird's movements and the precise whereabouts of its breeding grounds and winter haunts.

The latest edition of Birding World magazine reports sightings of the species last year in only three locations. During April birds turned up at two places in northern Greece, with up to five at Porto Lagos and three on Lake Mitrikou. The only other report was of one in Druridge Bay, Northumberland, in May, which, if accepted by the British Birds Rarities Committee, was the first sighting in the United Kingdom.

The last known regular winter haunt was Merdja Zerga, a large tidal lagoon on the north-west African coast between Tangier and Rabat. But each year the number decreased until there was only one, which left in late February 1995 to begin its long spring migration to Russia's steppes. It did not return in the autumn. The same year, up to 19 were also present at a site in southern Italy up to late March, but they did not return in subsequent winters.

Britain's acknowledged world expert on slender-billed curlews is Adam Gretton, now with the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, who has been on three expeditions to Siberia and one to Kazakhstan looking for nesting birds, without success. In 1994, he estimated the population to be between 50 and 270 birds, but their status appears worse now. He said: "Ten years ago there were up to a dozen records a year internationally. But now that it is down to two or three, the situation is very worrying. But there is a ray of hope. There could be birds wintering regularly in places where access is difficult.

"It is possible there could be regular wintering in Algeria, Iraq and Iran, which, because of the political situation, have become no-go areas for people studying birds. However, the situation is improving in Iran so it may be possible before too long for an expedition to go in there to look for possible sites."

Mr Gretton pointed out: "The other problem continues to be finding their breeding territory. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack. It's somewhere on a marshy steppe east of the Ural mountains, but finding a diminishing population in such a vast region is very difficult."

Slender-billed curlews are generally about 20 per cent smaller than their Eurasian cousins and their long, curved bill is more delicate, but superficially they are very similar and can be told apart only through careful examination. This adds to the problem.

Mr Gretton said at least 17 were known to have been killed by hunters over the past 20 years. It was difficult to prevent this happening when they looked so similar to Eurasian curlews, which are a popular target of hunters.

Death Of The

Great Auk

THE great auk, a flightless seabird resembling a very large razorbill, had no defence against human predators and became extinct in 1844 when the last pair were killed on a small island off Iceland. The last one in Britain died on St Kilda, the remote Scottish island group, in 1840. Two islanders beat it to death, believing it to be a witch.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
books
Arts and Entertainment
filmSir Ian McKellen will play retired detective in new film
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
'Molecular Man +1+1+1' by Jonathan Borofsky at Yorkshire Sculpture park
tv
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Digital Marketing, Hampstead,London

To £55kpa (12 Month Contract): Charter Selection: Major household name charity...

Head of Digital Marketing Manager, Hampstead,London

To £55kpa (12 Month Contract): Charter Selection: Major household name charity...

Service Technician

£30000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitment Company...

Energy Sales Co-ordinator

£20000 - £25000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil