Number of stone curlews is 'staggering'

JON WELCH A record number of stone curlews were spotted at Thetford Heath yesterday as they prepared to migrate to warmer climes for the winter. Norfolk Wildlife Trust described the number of stone curlews spotted - 121 - as “staggering”, smashing last year's peak count of 97.

JON WELCH

A record number of stone curlews were spotted at Thetford Heath yesterday as they prepared to migrate to warmer climes for the winter.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust described the number of stone curlews spotted - 121 - as “staggering”, smashing last year's peak count of 97.

The record count indicates a successful breeding season and confirms the birds are doing very well in Breckland.

The trust's Breckland field officer, Darrell Stevens said: “Just when we thought it was all over with a record count of 97, a stealthy walk up the heath revealed a count of 121. This is a site record and it could also be a record in Breckland.”

The stone curlew is a rare and secretive breeding bird, found only in south and east England, from Wiltshire to Norfolk.

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It is a ground-nesting bird, and so requires open land, for which Thetford Heath is ideal.

Seen at close range, it has sandy brown plumage, yellow legs, a black-tipped yellow bill and large yellow eyes.

The birds were once common throughout southern and eastern England but they now breed only in Breckland and on Salisbury Plain.

Stone curlews like disturbed ground on which they can easily scrabble to create a shallow nest, and areas occupied by rabbits are especially suitable.

The birds' decline became marked during the 1950s when myxamatosis was introduced to control the rabbit population, but conservation efforts to manage heathland since the 1970s have paid dividends.

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