EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST
This week, it is Curlews & Godwits
This week, we are looking at four of thelargest wader species in the UK, the Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit and Black-tailed Godwit. The first three species, in winter, have pretty similar overall plumage, while Black-tailed Godwits are more distinctively patterned. All have outsized bills, rivalled only by the Snipe. Curlews and Whimbrels have down curved bills while the godwits are straight or very slightly upturned.
Our largest wader is so big it can resemble a gull in flight. Essentially brown streaked and rather plain (with a barred tail, white rump and lower back), the Curlew is all about size, astonishing bill and one of the most magnificently evocative voices in the British avifauna. They are told from the similar Whimbrel by having the larger size, longer bill and relatively plain head (lacking the bold crown markings of a Whimbrel). Adult females have notably longer bills than males and juveniles. Variousloud ‘curlee’ calls, plus a beautiful bubbling string of curlees for the song.
A smaller, more compact yet slimmer version of the Curlew, the Whimbrel is closer in size to a godwit. The bill often looks straight, with the downward kink neat the tip (rather than an even downward curve seen in Curlews). Apart from size and bill shape, concentrate on the head, where the crown is dark with a prominent pale median stripe. The had usually looks slightly more angular than that of a Curlew. The usual flight call is a rapidly repeated monotone series of clipped whistles. The song is deceptively similar to that of the Curlew.
In summer, male Bar-tailed Godwits are deep brick red on their underparts. Females, however, are paler and look more like wintering birds: which are similar in plumage pattern to Curlews and Whimbrels (including the barred tail and white rump extending up the back; and lack of wing-bars). Females are bigger than males and can be much longer billed. Told from Similar Black-tailed Godwit, mainly by wing pattern (Black-tailed Godwits have very striking wing-bars) and back and tail patterns. Bar-taileds are shorter necked (so they look more compact) and shorter-legged, particularly above the ‘knee’ and tend to look more streaked than plain grey Black-taileds.
Tall and gangly (some would say elegant), Black-tailed Godwits are best recognised by their obvious wing bars, as well as the small square white rump and black tail. In orange summer plumage, the orange only extends to the front of the belly, being white (barred with variable amounts of black) on the lower belly. Long legs, mean feet project well beyond tail in flight. In winter, note plain plumage but bold pale supercilium.
All photos from Alamy