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Thursday 18 April 2019

World Curlew Day

To celebrate World Curlew day, here is a short article for you to enjoy on the names used locally across Wales when referring to the Curlew.

Your call is heard at mid-day
As a sweet voiced flute above the moor.
As the whistle of an invisible shepherd
Your call is heard at midnight
Until one hears, as your sound intensifies
The barking of your unseen dogs.
                                            R Williams-Parry

Of all Welsh birdsongs, to me, the curlew’s song is the most magical. Here in Wales it is a bird that breeds mainly in the highlands. Unfortunately, its numbers have fallen dramatically in the last thirty years. At one time it was quite a common bird during the breeding season and this is probably what is responsible for the fact that it is known by a number of ‘local’ names. Local names can generally be assigned to one of three groups; names that refer to the appearance of the bird, names that refer to its sound or names which refer to its nesting location or breeding season.

The standard Welsh name ‘gylfinir’ refers to the bird’s long beak (‘gylfin’ = beak, ‘hir’ = long). In different areas of Wales, there are variations in this name, but all being very similar - gylfinhir, glifinir, gilfainhir, Pegi big hir, gylfiniog, glifirin and glafinir. It is also sometimes referred to as ‘gylfinir fawr’ (the addition ‘fawr’ = large, differentiates it from the whimbrel).

Turning to names which describe its cry or song, we have ciarliw, cwrlig, cwrlip, chwibannwr (whistler), cwliwn, cwrlif, cwrlin, whibanwr (whistler), cyrliw, and cyrliwn.

There are two names that combine reference to the bird’s song and its habitat during the breeding season ‘chwibanogl y mynydd’ a ‘chwibanog y mynydd’ which translate as the mountain or highland whistler.

Turning to names that relate the bird to its nesting place or breeding area, the following names are used cornicyll y waun (which is also used for the lapwing) and cŵn Ebrill a cog Cwm Nant yr Eira.

The name ‘cŵn Ebrill’ = dogs of April (a name which is also used for the whimbrel) refers to the period when the bird returns to its nesting area - the middle of spring. In the same way the lovely name ‘cog Cwm Nant yr Eira’ = the Nant yr Eira cuckoo, refers not only to the time of nesting (which is the time cuckoo returns) but also locates an important breeding area in Wales, namely Cwm Nant yr Eira in Powys.

Dewi Lewis

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