Curlew

Numenius arquata

50-60cm

Appearance

The Curlew is the biggest bird that breeds in the region; it has a long, downcurved bill, longer than the Whimbrel's, and long legs. The sexes are similar but generally, the female's bill is longer. Plumage is grey-brown and is streaky and dotted on the neck and underparts. The flanks have arrow-shaped barring and the head is plain compared to the Whimbrel's distinctive head markings. Juvenile resembles adult, but is more uniformly buffish-brown with thinly streaked neck and breast. When flying, the upperparts are darkest on the outside of the wings, the white rump makes a 'V' shape up to the back; the tail is barred brown.

Habitat

Breeding grounds are most commonly upland moorland that is boggy and grassy, hilly fields, and coastal marshes. During winter, tends primarily towards coasts, particularly estuaries, and the region has some traditional wetland wintering sites.

Character

This is a timid bird with rapid flight; often wades in deep water and can swim small distances. Birds will typically spread out along the coast while they feed, then gather in flocks during high tide, often roosting or continuing to feed on nearby grassland. Males signal their territory with a rolling, diving flight display.

Food

Winter diet includes crabs, lugworms, ragworms, small shellfish, cockles, marine snails and shrimps, and earthworms. During summer it feeds on insects, particularly the larvae of beetles and flies, spiders and worms.

Breeding

Male scrapes several nest sites from the ground and the female chooses one. She lays 4 eggs in April and May and both parents incubate them for 27-29. Hatchlings have a layer of down and are able to feed themselves, though both parents care for them until female leaves; this usually occurs before young can fly at about 32-38 days.

Population

There are approximately 68 000 breeding pairs in the UK and over 2500 in Ireland. Over 150 000 birds from Scandinavia, western Europe and Russia spend winter in the UK and over 50 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

Calls rather regularly and it is a distinctive sound, so finding this bird shouldn't be too challenging. It does share many similarities with the Whimbrel, which may make identification difficult, as both species are coastal in the spring and autumn. The length of the bill and the markings or lack thereof on the head should help with separation of each species.

Voice

Most common call is a 'cur-lew', which is where its name is derived. Has a melancholy, gurgling song-flight on breeding grounds.
Back to Bird Index