Species Profile and Threats Database

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EPBC Act Listing Status Listed marine
Listed migratory - Bonn, CAMBA
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument].
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument].
Scientific name Numenius arquata [846]
Family Scolopacidae:Charadriiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map not available for this taxon.
Illustrations Google Images

Scientific Name: Numenius arquata

Common Name: Eurasian Curlew

Other names: Common Curlew, European Curlew, Large Western, Western Curlew (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Higgins & Davies 1996; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

The Eurasian Curlew is a conventionally accepted species (Sibley & Monroe 1990). There are three subspecies: nominate subspecies arquata, which breeds in Europe, and winters in Europe, north-western Africa and western Asia; subspecies orientalis, which breeds in Russia, northern Kazakhstan and western China, and winters in western, southern and eastern Africa and much of Asia, and and subspecies suschkini which breeds in the southern Urals and Kazakhstan and migrates to eastern and southern Africa (Bamford et al 2008; Cramp & Simmons 1983; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

The Eurasian Curlew is a large (length: 50–60 cm; weight: 410–1360 g) shorebird with long legs and a long, down-curved bill. Sexes are similar, though the male has a shorter bill. The juvenile is distinguishable with close views (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

In breeding plumage, the head, neck and upper mantle are pale buff-brown with dark streaks on the head and neck, and dark blotches and diffuse bars on the mantle. The lower back and rump are white, while the tail is barred pale brown and black-brown. The upperwings are pale buff-brown with dark blotches, and the flight feathers are very dark, almost black. The face is pale buff-brown with dark streaking, with an ill-defined supercilium, and a pale chin and upper throat. The upper breast is whitish with dark streaks, grading to heavier streaking on the lower breast, forming a bib, and streaking continues onto the belly, vent and undertail coverts. The underwing is white, variably streaked and spotted. The eyes are brown, the bill is dark horn with a pinkish or reddish base, and the legs and feet are blue-grey to olive-grey (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

In non-breeding plumage the species is similar, but duller and drabber, losing the buff tone, and the underparts below the chest become whiter, making the bib on the breast more obvious (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

The juvenile appears similar to adults in breeding plumage, except the buff tones are paler, the streaking on the underparts is finer, and the belly and vent are whiter (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

The species tends to occur in flocks (Cramp & Simmons 1983), but vagrants are more likely to occur singly.

There have been four unconfirmed reports in Australia: at Darwin, Northern Territory, in March-April 1948 (Deignan 1964); Perth, Western Australia, in November 1969 (Hutchison 1971a); Lower Daintree, Queensland, on 12 October 1998 (unpublished); and Eighty Mile Beach, Western Australia (unpublished). The first two reports were not accepted by the Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antartic Birds (HANZAB) (Higgins & Davies 1996) nor reviewed by the Birds Australia Rarities Committee, and the third report was not accepted by the Birds Australia Rarities Committee. The fourth record is still under review. Thus, there have been no confirmed records of the species in Australia.

The species has not been recorded in Australia, so there are no estimates of the extent of occurrence of the Eurasian Curlew in Australia. The estimated global extent of occurrence is 10 000 000 km² (Birdlife International 2007f).

There are no published estimates of the area of occupancy.

There are no current captive populations of this species and none have been reintroduced into the wild.

The Eurasian Curlew is widespread in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Breeding distribution
Eurasian Curlews breed in Europe, from Britain and Scandinavia, east to the Ural Mountains. Farther east, in Asia, they breed from the Volga River and the Ural Mountains, east to north-eastern China and adjacent parts of eastern Siberia and northern Kazakhstan (Cramp & Simmons 1983; de Schauensee 1984; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

On passage
In the East Asia-Australasian Flyway, the subspecies N. a. orientalis is recorded on passage through eastern China, South Korea and adjacent parts of the Yellow Sea, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula (Barter et al. 2000a, 2000b; Crossland et al. 2006; de Schauensee 1984; Dickinson et al. 1991; Glenister 1974; Gore & Won 1971; Orn. Soc. Japan 2000). Elsewhere, Eurasian Curlews are recorded on passage through the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent (Ali & Ripley 1969; Grimmett et al. 1999b; Roberts 1991), and along the East Atlantic and Mediterranean Flyways, through most of Europe and Africa (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

Non-breeding distribution
Eurasian Curlews spend the non-breeding season over a wide area (including regions where the species is also recorded on passage), occurring in coastal regions in western Europe, virtually all of Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and South East and eastern Asia (south at least to Sumatra and north to the Yangtze River) (Ali & Ripley 1969; Cramp & Simmons 1983; de Schauensee 1984; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996; Van Marle & Voous 1988). Vagrants have been recorded in Timor and Halmahera (Coates & Bishop 1997) and further afield in North America (AOU 1983). There have been no acceptable records in Australia (Higgins & Davies 1996).

The species has been well surveyed in parts of its range (mainly in Europe), especially in Britain (Jenkins & Watson 2001; O'Brien et al. 2002; Rehfinch et al. 2003; Sim et al. 2005; Wilson et al. 2005), France (Beaudion 2000) and Poland (Wylegala et al. 2004). There are also increasing numbers of surveys being conducted in eastern Asia (e.g. Barter & Reigen 2004; Barter et al. 2000a; Li et al. 2006; Wei et al. 2006; Yang & Zhang 2006).

The global population of Eurasian Curlews is estimated at 490 000–660 000 individuals (Birdlife International 2007f).

Though there are separate breeding populations in Europe and Asia, there is some overlap between their breeding distributions around eastern Europe, and both populations combine to have a widespread non-breeding distribution from western Africa and western Europe to South-East Asia (Cramp & Simmons 1983; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

The population of the nominate subspecies arquata has declined in many parts of Europe due to modification of its preferred habitats (Cramp & Simmons 1983; van Gils & Wiersma 1996), but there is no evidence that the subspecies orientalis has declined in Asia (Birdlife International 2007f). The species is not globally threatened (van Gils & Wiersma 1996), and is classified as being of least concern (Birdlife International 2007f).

Populations in Europe are said to fluctuate, corresponding with "hard" winters (Cramp & Simmons 1983).

There is no published information on the generation length of the Eurasian Curlew, but they first breed when two years old, and the oldest known bird was 32 years old (van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

Given this species' widespread distribution on its breeding grounds and also in its non-breeding areas, there is no particular key population that is vital for the species' long-term survival.

The Eurasian Curlew is not known to hybridize with other species in the wild.

Given the widespread distribution of this species, especially when on migration and in non-breeding grounds, it occurs in many conservation reserves in a number of countries.

During the non-breeding period the species occurs mainly on extensive, sheltered intertidal mudflats, and also rocky shores and other coastal wetlands, especially saltpans and lakes, and sometimes at freshwater swamps (Barter et al. 2000a; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Riak et al. 2003; Roberts 1991; Summers et al. 2002; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996; Yang & Zhang 2006). During the breeding season, they inhabit moist terrestrial habitats including bogs, marshes, mires, moist, unimproved grassland and moors (Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Henderson et al. 2002; Sim et al. 2005; van Gils & Wiersma 1996; Wilson et al. 2005).

Feeding habitat
During the non-breeding season, Eurasian Curlews usually forage in deep or shallow water of intertidal rock pools and mudflats, or other coastal wetlands (Boon 1996; Perez-Hurtado et al. 1997; Riak et al. 2003; Yang & Zhang 2006). During the breeding season, they forage in cultivated farmland, pasture and sown grass, or other short grassed areas (Berg 1993; Jenkins & Watson 2001). Males are more likely to feed on inland grasslands than females (van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

Roosting habitat
The species has been recorded roosting in intertidal saltmarshes, in shrimp ponds, and on bunds between saltpans and fishponds (Lane et al. 1994; Perez-Hurtado et al. 1997; Starks 1987b) and probably other sheltered areas near foraging sites.

Breeding habitat
They breed in open, wet grasslands and moorland, and raised bogs (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Sim et al. 2005; Wilson et al. 2005).
The species does not rely on a listed threatened ecological community.

The Eurasian Curlew first breeds when two years old, and the oldest known bird was 32 years old. The annual rates of mortality are 66% in the first year, declining to 18% in the third year (van Gils & Wiersma 1996). On the breeding grounds, Eurasian Curlews are preyed upon by Foxes (Vulpes vulpes), Hooded Crows (Corvus corone) and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Larus fuscus) (Henderson et al. 2002).

The species does not breed in Australia (Higgins & Davies 1996; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

Eurasian Curlews lay their eggs between April and early July. Nests are usually a large depression in the ground, lined with dry grass and a few feathers, often situated on a tussock or low hummock, among grass or crops, or completely exposed. Clutches usually comprise four eggs (though may be between two and six eggs), and are incubated for 27–29 days by both sexes. The chicks are precocial, and are attended by both parents, and this lasts until the chicks fledge after 32–38 days (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; van Gils & Wiersma 1996). Due to their ground-nesting habit and the precocial nature of the chicks, Eurasian Curlews are vulnerable to predation by various predators on breeding grounds (Cramp & Simmons 1983).

During the non-breeding season Eurasian Curlews mainly eat small invertebrates including polychaete worms, molluscs, crabs, shrimps and amphipods; as well as earthworms, insects and spiders, small fish, amphibians, chicks and eggs, and small mammals; and, very occasionally, seeds. On the breeding grounds they mainly eat insects and their larvae, especially grasshoppers and beetles, but also ants, craneflies, earwigs, flies and moths. They also eat earthworms, and occasionally freshwater crustaceans, amphibians, lizards, chicks and small mammals, and also occasionally fruits and other plant material (Berg 1993; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Perez-Hurtado et al. 1997).

There are three methods of foraging used by the Eurasian Curlew:

  • pecking the surface of the substrate
  • quickly jabbing the bill into the substrate, inserting half of the length of the bill
  • more prolonged probing, where the bill is fully inserted into the substrate (Cramp & Simmons 1983).

Crabs are usually located by sight (Cramp & Simmons 1983). The species exhibits sexual dimorphism in the bill shape: males have shorter bills than females, and this leads to slightly different methods of foraging. Thus, males tend to catch more invertebrates from the surface of the soil than females, which tend to catch more earthworms taken from beneath the soil (Berg 1993).

The Eurasian Curlew is a migratory species, breeding in the arctic and migrating to temperate, subtropical and tropical regions for the non-breeding period (Ali & Ripley 1969; Cramp & Simmons 1983; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

Departure from breeding grounds
The species usually departs its breeding grounds in Europe in July and August (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951)

Southern passage
In the East Asia-Australasian Flyway, the Eurasian Curlew is recorded on passage through eastern China between mid-August and mid-September (Chalmers 1986) and South Korea in September (Rogers et al. 2006). The species is recorded to move through the Philippines from late August (Dickinson et al. 1991). The species is also recorded on passage through the Malay Peninsula (Glenister 1974). The number of Eurasian Curlews moving through the Flyway on southern passage is generally higher than the number recorded moving northwards (Chalmers 1986; Crossland et al. 2006; Moores 2006). Elsewhere, Curlews are recorded on passage through the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, mostly in August or September (Ali & Ripley 1969; Grimmett et al. 1999b; Roberts 1991). Birds also migrate southwards along the East Atlantic and Mediterranean Flyways, with birds wintering in western Africa probably migrating non-stop along the Mediterranean Flyway and across the Sahara Desert on a broad front (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996; Wymenga et al. 1990). Movements through eastern Europe may continue into October or November (Cramp & Simmons 1983).

Non-breeding season
Eurasian Curlews spend the non-breeding season over a wide area (including regions where the species is also recorded on passage), occurring in coastal regions in western Europe, virtually all of Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, and South East and eastern Asia (south at least to Sumatra and north to the Yangtze River). They are usually present on the non-breeding grounds between August and March or early April (Ali & Ripley 1969; Cramp & Simmons 1983; de Schauensee 1984; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951; Piersma et al. 1990; Urban et al. 1986; van Gils & Wiersma 1996; Van Marle & Voous 1988).

Northern passage.
In the East Asia-Australasian Flyway, the species is recorded on passage through Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula, the Philippines and Japan (Crossland et al. 2006; Dickinson et al. 1991; Glenister 1974; Orn. Soc. Japan 2000). Passage through South Korea and eastern China (the last staging posts before the breeding grounds) is mostly recorded between mid- and late April, with most gone by mid-May (Barter & Riegen 2004; Barter et al. 2000a, 2000b; Chalmers 1986; Riegen et al. 2006; Rogers et al. 2006; Yang & Zhang 2006). Elsewhere, in the South Asian Flyway, the species is recorded on passage through the Indian subcontinent in April, with most gone by early May (Ali & Ripley 1969; Grimmett et al. 1999b; Roberts 1991). Elsewhere, the species migrates north along the East Atlantic and Mediterranean Flyways in April (Cramp & Simmons 1983).

Return to breeding grounds.
They arrive back at the breeding grounds in April and May (Cramp & Simmons 1983; Dement'ev & Gladkov 1951).

Some Eurasian Curlews defend territories when on wintering grounds, but others are gregarious (van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

In Australia, the Eurasian Curlew is likely to be confused only with the similar but larger Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis). Though there are a few differences in the plumage of the two species (Higgins & Davies 1996), a vagrant Eurasian Curlew would be difficult to detect if it was among a large or tight flock of Eastern Curlews (Riegen et al. 2006; Rogers et al. 2006).

There are no viable methods to conduct surveys of the species in Australia, as there have been no confirmed records, and if the species did occur, it would be in very small numbers. It is most likely to be detected during the regular, twice-yearly, high-tide surveys by the Australasian Wader Studies Group of shorebirds at regular sites.

The species has not been recorded in Australia, so there are no threats that are relevant to the overall population of the species here. However, over-visitation by enthusiasts could be a threat should the species be found in Australia, though this is an unlikely event. General threats include pollution and loss of habitat, which affect most species of migratory shorebirds visiting Australia.

On the breeding grounds, especially in Europe, Eurasian Curlews are adversely affected by loss, fragmentation or modification of their breeding habitats. This includes the drainage of wet grasslands, moors and peat bogs, afforestation or conversion of such habitats to farmland, intensive management of habitats for game or intensive grazing (Baines 1988; Henderson et al. 2002; Sim et al. 2005; Wilson et al. 2005). In addition, they have also been threatened by technology. Mechanized cutting of peat (Henderson et al. 2002), and mowing of grassy areas causes high mortality of chicks and eggs (Bijlsma 1999; van Gils & Wiersma 1996).

There are also a number of threats that affect all migratory waders that occur in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. The greatest threat facing waders is habitat loss, both direct and indirect (Melville 1997). Staging areas used during migration through eastern Asia are being lost and degraded by activities which are reclaiming the mudflats for future development (Barter 2002, 2005c; Ge et al. 2007; Moores 2006; Rogers et al. 2006; Round 2006). In many suitable staging areas along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway many intertidal areas have been reclaimed, and the process is continuing at a rapid rate and may accelerate in the near future (Barter 2002, 2005c; Wei et al. 2006). In addition, water regulation and diversion infrastructure in the major tributaries have resulted in the reduction of water and sediment flows, which compound the problem (Barter 2002; Barter et al. 1998; Melville 1997).

Global warming and associated changes in sea level are likely to have a long-term impact on the breeding, staging and non-breeding grounds of migratory waders (Harding et al. 2007; Melville 1997).

Migratory shorebirds are also adversely affected by pollution, both on passage and in non-breeding areas (Harding et al. 2007; Melville 1997; Moores 2006; Round 2006; Wei et al. 2006).

Disturbance from human activities, including recreation, shellfish harvesting, fishing and aquaculture is likely to increase significantly in the future (Barter et al. 2005; Davidson & Rothwell 1993).

There are a few major studies which have focused on the species, such as Berg (1993), Ferns and Siman (1994), Grant and colleagues (2000), Henderson and colleagues (2002), Mulder and Swann (1992) and Wylegala and colleagues (2004).

There are detailed summaries of all that is known of the species in the Western Palearctic in Cramp and Simmons (1983), in Russia in Dement'ev and Gladkov (1951) and an international summary in van Gils and Wiersma (1996). There are a few papers which deal with the effects of modification of habitats inhabited by Eurasian Curlews, and the effects of those modifications on the species as well as other species which fill similar niches in western Europe, for example Henderson and colleagues (2002), Sim and colleagues (2005) and Wilson and colleagues (2005).

A review of sites of international importance for migratory shorebirds across the East Asian-Australasian Flyway has been conducted by Bamford and colleagues (2008) to assist management decisions relating to species such as the Eurasian Curlew.

No threats data available.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Numenius arquata in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:19:36 +1000.