Curlews breed in the British Isles and France, Fenno-Scandia and across central Europe to western Siberia and north-central Asia. The breeding population in the British Isles has fallen sharply in the past forty years as clearly shown by Bird Atlas 2007-2011 which recorded a 78% contraction in range in Ireland and a 17% reduction in Great Britain since the 1968-72 Breeding Atlas.
    In Britain their original strongholds were in the northern and western  uplands, whence they began to spread south and east from the 1860s onwards. In Wiltshire a scattering of reports in the 19th century are mostly thought to have been mistakenly identified Stone-curlews and it was not until 1916 that the county’s first generally accepted report of breeding Curlews occurred. During the next 30 years, up until 1946 the only further reports referred to breeding on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border during the 1930s, mostly on the Hampshire side. From 1946 onwards however records of breeding pairs began to be reported more regularly, building up to a maximum of 70 pairs in 1969. Thereafter drier summers and extensive drainage of some established nesting areas led to a falling away of numbers. Birds of Wiltshire estimated the total number of breeding Curlews to be somewhere between 25 and 40 pairs. Breeding was recorded in 36 out of 82 occupied tetrads, a total which a decade later had fallen to 22 out of 53 in WTA2.
    Curlews are mostly migratory, moving in winter to the coasts of western Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, Madagascar and southern Asia. In winter the British resident population mostly moves to the coast, where it is joined by large numbers of migrants from Fenno-Scandia creating a total which Bird Atlas 2007-2011 revealed is now 19% higher than it was in the 1981-84 Winter Atlas. In Wiltshire the partial winter tetrad surveys for Birds of Wiltshire found Curlews present in only two of the tetrads surveyed, suggesting at most five or six tetrads overall, just 7% of the total of tetrads occupied in summer. By contrast, the winter surveys for WTA2 recorded them in 18 tetrads, 33% of the summer total.


The following references are used throughout these species accounts, in the abbreviated form given in quotation marks:
1968-72 Breeding Atlas” – Sharrack, J.T.R. 1976:  The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. Poyser
1981-84 Winter Atlas” – Lack, P.C. 1986:  The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. Poyser
1988-91 Breeding Atlas” – Gibbons, D.W., Reid, J.B. & Chapman, R.A. 1993: The New Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland 1988-91. T. & A. Poyser
Birds of Wiltshire” – Ferguson-Lees, I.J. et al. 2007 : Birds of Wiltshire, published by the tetrad atlas group of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society after mapping fieldwork 1995-2000. Wiltshire Ornithological Society.
Bird Atlas 2007-2011” – Balmer, D.E., Gillings, S., Caffrey, B.J., Swann, R.L., Downie, I.S. and Fuller, R.J. 2013: Bird Atlas 2007-2011: the Breeding and Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland
WTA2” – ("Wiltshire Tetrad Atlas 2 ") the present electronic publication, bringing together the Wiltshire data from “Birds of Wiltshire” and “Bird Atlas 2007-11”, together with data from further fieldwork carried out in 2011 and 2012.
"Hobby" - the annual bird report of the Wiltshire Ornithological Society.