email a friend
printable version
Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This widespread species remains common in many parts of its range, and determining population trends is problematic. Nevertheless, declines have been recorded in several key populations and overall a moderately rapid global decline is estimated. As a result, the species has been uplisted to Near Threatened; it almost qualifies for threatened under criteria A2bcd+3bcd+4bcd.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

55cm. Large wader with long down-curved bill. Mottled or streaked brown plumage with whiter belly and undertail. In flight show pointed whitish rump and barred tail as well as mottled whitish underwings. Outer primaries contrastingly dark and flight slow and gull-like. Similar spp. European race of N.phaeopus similar but with shorter bill and dark crown side and eye-stripe. N.tahitiensis, N.americanus and N.madagascariensis also similar but dark rumps and underwings.

Distribution and population
Numenius arquata is widely distributed, breeding across Europe from the British Isles, through north-western Europe and Scandinavia into Russia extending east into Siberia, east of Lake Baikal. It winters around the coasts of north-west Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, South-East Asia, Japan and the Sundas. It has a large global population estimated to number 765,000-1,065,000 individuals (M. Barter in litt. 2007; Wetlands International 2006). The breeding population in Western Europe (220,000-360,000 pairs) has declined in recent years, with a 53% decline in the United Kingdom calculated over the period 1970-2005 from the Common Birds Census and the Breeding Bird Survey, and a 37% decline over the period 1994-2006 derived from the Breeding Bird Survey (Eaton et al. 2007; R. Gregory in litt. 2007). A decline of 86% was calculated in Ireland between 1988-1991 and 2003 (Gibbons et al. 1993; Hillis 2003) and declines have been recorded in Finland (BirdLife International 2004), Germany (Hötker et al. 2007), Lithuania (20-30% per decade) (L. Raudonikis in litt. 2007) and the Netherlands (31% since 1984 (A. J. van Djik in litt. 2007)). Unquantified, but potentially highly significant, declines have also been recorded in the central Asian populations of N. a. orientalis (J. Kamp and S. Sklyarenko in litt. 2007). In Denmark (K. N. Flensted in litt. 2007; Meltofte et al. 2009) and eastern Siberia (I. Fefelov in litt. 2007) breeding populations are apparently stable and apparent increases in wintering populations in the Wadden Sea (Laursen and Karsten 2005; Meltofte et al. 2009), on the Adriatic coast (Gusson et al. 2005), in East Asia (M. Barter in litt. 2007) and in Western Europe suggest that breeding populations, probably in European Russia and northern Siberia have perhaps increased. Overall, analysis of the compiled trend data indicate three generation (15 year) estimate of decline of between 26% and 34% (BirdLife International 2004; Hillis 2003; A. J. van Djik in litt. 2007; M. Barter in litt. 2007; Wetlands International 2006; Thorup 2006; A. Copland in litt. 2007; M. Boschert in litt. 2007; Eaton et al. 2007; R. Gregory in litt. 2007). Owing to the uncertainty over whether declines in southern populations have been compensated by increases in northern populations, the global trend is suspected to fall within the band 20-30% declines in the past 15 years or three generations.

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number c.77,000-1,065,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2006 and Barter in litt. 2007), while national population estimates include: < c.10,000 individuals on migration and >c.10,000 wintering individuals in China; c.1,000-10,000 individuals on migration and c.50-1,000 wintering individuals in Taiwan; c.1,000-10,000 individuals on migration and c.1,000-10,000 wintering individuals in Korea; c.1,000-10,000 individuals on migration and c.50-1,000 wintering individuals ? in Japan and c.10,000-100,000 breeding pairs and c.1,000-10,000 individuals on migration in Russia (Brazil 2009).

Trend justification
Data from 2007 return estimated three-generation declines of 26.1-34.1%. However, owing to the uncertainty over whether declines in southern populations have been compensated for by increases in northern populations, the global trend is suspected to fall within the band 20-30% in the past 15 years (three generations).

Behaviour Most populations of this species are fully migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and breed from April to August (Hayman et al. 1986) in solitary territorial pairs (Johnsgard 1981), occasionally also forming small colonies (Flint et al. 1984). After breeding adults gather on coasts (from July onwards) (Hayman et al. 1986) for the post-breeding moult (Snow and Perrins 1998) before migrating south to the wintering grounds between July and November (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The species departs its wintering grounds again from February through to May, although non-breeders may remain in the wintering areas all-year-round (del Hoyo et al. 1996). During the winter the species usually forages singly or in small groups (del Hoyo et al. 1996) occasionally aggregating into flocks of several thousand individuals, especially at roosting sites (Snow and Perrins 1998). Habitat Breeding The species breeds on upland moors, peat bogs, swampy and dry heathlands, fens, open grassy or boggy areas in forests, damp grasslands, meadows (del Hoyo et al. 1996), non-intensive farmland in river valleys (Hayman et al. 1986), dune valleys and coastal marshlands (del Hoyo et al. 1996) Non-breeding During the winter the species frequents muddy coasts, bays and estuaries (del Hoyo et al. 1996) with tidal mudflats and sandflats (Snow and Perrins 1998), rocky and sandy beaches with many pools (Johnsgard 1981; Snow and Perrins 1998), mangroves, saltmarshes (Snow and Perrins 1998), coastal meadows (Johnsgard 1981) and muddy shores of coastal lagoons (Johnsgard 1981), inland lakes and rivers (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It also utilises wet grassland and arable fields during migration (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Diet Its diet consists chiefly of annelid worms and terrestrial insects (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (e.g. Coleoptera and Orthoptera) (Johnsgard 1981) especially during the summer (del Hoyo et al. 1996), although it will also take crustaceans, molluscs, polychaete worms (del Hoyo et al. 1996), spiders (Johnsgard 1981), berries and seeds, as well as occasionally small fish, amphibians, lizards, young birds and small rodents (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding site The nest is a shallow depression on the ground or on a mound (Flint et al. 1984) in the open or in the cover of grass or sedge (del Hoyo et al. 1996) often far from water (Johnsgard 1981). Management information A study into the effects of shellfish harvesting by hand in coastal intertidal habitats recommends that the harvesting load should be limited to -1 during this species's autumn migration (Navedo and Masero 2007).

Breeding The species is threatened by the loss and fragmentation of moorland habitats as a result of afforestation (del Hoyo et al. 1996; Johnsgard 1981) and of marginal grassland habitats as a result of agricultural intensification and improvement (del Hoyo et al. 1996; Johnsgard 1981; Baines 1988) (e.g. drainage, inorganic fertilisation and reseeding) (Baines 1988). The species also suffers from high egg and chick mortalities (due to mechanical mowing) and higher predation rates if nesting on improved grasslands (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Conversely populations in the central Asians steppes have declined following abandonment of farmland and subsequent increases in the height of vegetation, rendering large areas unsuitable for nesting. It has also suffered population declines as a result of hunting (Johnsgard 1981), and is susceptible to avian influenza so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus (Melville and Shortridge 2006). Non-breeding Wintering populations are threatened by disturbance on intertidal mudflats (del Hoyo et al. 1996; Burton et al. 2002a, 2002b) (e.g. from construction work (Burton et al. 2002a) and foot-traffic (Burton et al. 2002b)), development on high-tide roosting sites, pollution (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and the flooding of estuarine mudflats and saltmarshes as a result of tidal barrage construction (Burton 2006). The species is also threatened by the degradation of migrational staging areas owing to land reclamation, pollution, human disturbance and reduced river flows (Kelin and Qiang 2006). Local populations of this species have also declined owing to hunting pressures (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

Conservation Actions Underway
Annex II/2 of the EU Birds Directive. A management plan for the species, updated for 2007-2009, was published in 2007, covering the EU portion of the species's range (Jensen and Lutz 2007). A 5 year moratorium on hunting the species was implemented in France in July 2008 (A. Duncan in litt. 2008). The species occurs in a large number of protected areas throughout its range and features in several national monitoring schemes. Conservation Actions Proposed
The Management Plan for Curlew outlines key conservation targets: Protect key wintering sites. Determine the key parameters driving declines in breeding areas and integrate agri-environment measures to counter these. Continue monitoring trends. Minimise disturbance on the wintering grounds.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Baines, D. 1988. The effects of improvement of upland grassland on the distribution and density of breeding wading birds (Charadriiformes) in northern England. Biological Conservation 45: 221-236.

BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

Burton, N. H. K. 2006. The impact of the Cardiff Bay barrage on wintering waterbirds. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), aterbirds around the world, pp. 805. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Burton, N. H. K.; Armitage, M. J. S.; Musgrove, A. J.; Rehfisch, M. M. 2002. Impacts of Man-Made landscape Features on Numbers of Estuarine Waterbirds at Low Tide. Environmental Management 30(6): 857-864.

Burton, N.H.K., Rehfisch, M.M. and Clark, N.A. 2002. Impacts of Disturbance from Construction Work on the Densities and Feeding Behavior of Waterbirds using the Intertidal Mudflats of Cardiff Bay, U.K. Environmental Management 30(6): 865-871.

Crick, H. Q. P.; Dudley, C.; Glue, D.E.; Thomson, D.L. 1997. UK birds are laying earlier. Nature 388: 526.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Eaton, M. A.; Austin, G. E.; Banks, A. N.; Conway, G.; Douse, A.; Grice, P. V.; Hearn, R. D.; Hilton, G. M.; Hoccom, D.; Musgrove, A. J.; Noble, D. G. N Ratcliffe, N; Rehrisch, M. M; Worden, J.; Wotton, S. 2007. The state of the UK's birds 2006.

Flint, V.E., Boehme, R.L., Kostin, Y.V. and Kuznetsov, A.A. 1984. A field guide to birds of the USSR. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Gibbons, D.W., Reid, J.B. and Chapman, R.A. 1993. Poyser, London, UK.

Hötker, H., Jeromin, H. and Melter, J. 2007. Entwicklung der Brutbestände der Wiesen-Limikolen in Deutschland - Ergebnisse eines neuen Ansatzes im Monitoring mittelhäufiger Brutvogelarten. Vogelwelt 128: 49-65.

Hayman, P.; Marchant, J.; Prater, A. J. 1986. Shorebirds. Croom Helm, London.

Hillis, J.P. 2003. Rare Irish breeding birds, 1992-2001. Irish Birds 7(2): 157-172.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Jenkins, D.; Watson, A. 2000. Dates of first arrival and song of birds during 1974-1999 in mid-Deeside, Scotland. Bird Study 47: 249-251.

Jensen, F. P.; Lutz, M. 2007. Management plan for Curlew (Numenius arquata) 2007-2009. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1981. The plovers, sandpipers and snipes of the world. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, U.S.A. and London.

Kelin, C.; Qiang, X. 2006. Conserving migratory shorebirds in the Yellow Sea region. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 319. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Laursen, K. 2005. Curlews in the Wadden Sea - effects of shooting protection in Denmark. Wadden Sea Ecosystem 20: 173-183.

Meltofte, H.; Laursen, K.; Amstrup, O. 2009. [Marked increase in numbers of staging and wintering Curlews in Denmark following improved protection and climate amelioration]. Dansk Ornitologisk Forenings Tidsskrift 103(4): 99-113.

Melville, D. S.; Shortridge, K. F. 2006. Migratory waterbirds and avian influenza in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway with particular reference to the 2003-2004 H5N1 outbreak. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 432-438. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Navedo, J. G.; Masero, J. A. 2007. Measuring potential negative effects of traditional harvesting practices on waterbirds: a case study with migrating curlews. Animal Conservation 10: 88-94.

Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Thorup, O. 2006. Breeding waders in Europe 2000. International Wader Study Group, Thetford, U.K.

Wetland International - China Office. 2006. Relict Gull surveys in Hongjianao, Shaanxi Province. Newsletter of China Ornithological Society 15(2): 29.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Derhé, M., Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S., Harding, M., Bird, J., Malpas, L. & Ashpole, J

Barter, M., Boschert, M., Copland, A., Kamp, J., Sklyarenko, S., van Dijk, A., Bragin, E., Fefelov, I., Mischenko, A., Raudonikis, L., Flensted, K. & Chan, S.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Numenius arquata. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Scolopacidae (Sandpipers, Snipes, Phalaropes)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 6,800,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment