I spotted this bird in the fields below the house this evening – curlews are usually so shy and impossible to approach that my eye was particularly drawn to this rather confiding individual. After a few seconds, I noticed the horrible deformity to his right leg which has left it looking as twisted and bendable as a pipe cleaner. Seen from the side, the entire foot projected out horizontally behind him and the toes were totally useless. I could see no sign of recent injury or infection, and almost suspect that it has been twisted for some time. I’m not clever enough to be able to age curlews, and in fact I can only be sure of their sex when a cock stands beside a hen, so this bird’s story is a bit of a mystery.
The fact that he was feeding happily suggested that he is not at death’s door, and despite a rather hobbling gait, he was managing quite nicely. He rose up and flew away after a little while, and although his future seems bleak, it is surprising how robust these birds can be. I’ve seen missing toes and absent feet many times, and I’m looking forward to the return of a curlew to the Chayne in March with a leg that sticks out to one side like a golf club. I’ve written about the longevity of curlews on this blog many times, but it seems that they are often damaged or scarred during the course of their long lives and yet take little notice of injuries that would make our eyes water.