email a friend
printable version
Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis

This species is listed as Vulnerable as it is undergoing a rapid population decline which is suspected to have been primarily driven by habitat loss and deterioration. Further proposed reclamation projects are predicted to cause additional declines in the future.

Taxonomic source(s)
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
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.
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

63 cm. Largest wader in New Zealand. Greyish brown and buff streaked body; very long downcurved bill (19 cm). Similar spp. Distinguished from other similar species by large size and very long bill. Hints: . Voice Flight call 'croo-lee'.

Distribution and population
Numenius madagascariensis breeds in eastern Russia, from the upper reaches of the Nizhnyaya Tunguska river east though the Verkhoyarsk mountains to Kamchatka, and south to Primorye and north-eastern Mongolia (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The Yellow Sea of North Korea, South Korea and China is a particularly important stopover site on migration. It has been recorded as a passage migrant in Japan, Brunei, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, with most birds wintering in Australia, but also in China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The global population has recently been estimated at 38,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2006), including 28,000 in Australia (Bamford et al. 2008). The global population is declining, as indicated by reduced numbers at stopover points in South Korea and Japan, and a significant decline in the number of non-breeding individuals wintering in north-west Australia and south-eastern Australia (Amano 2006, Gosbell and Clemens 2006, Moores et al. in litt. 2008, D. Rogers et al. in litt. 2009, Wilson et al. 2011).

Population justification
Wetlands International (2006) estimated the global population at c.38,000 individuals, although recent documented declines mean that the true population size is likely to be smaller, and may not exceed 20,000 individuals (D. Rogers in litt. 2012). As such, the population is estimated to number 20,000-49,999 individuals. National population estimates include: < c.100 breeding pairs and < c.10,000 individuals on migration in China; < c.1,000 individuals on migration and < c.1,000 wintering individuals in Taiwan (China) and c.100-10,000 breeding pairs and c.50-1,000 individuals on migration in Russia (Brazil 2009).

Trend justification
The species has been declining steadily, at a rate of 2.4% annually in Moreton Bay between 1992 and 2008 (Wilson et al. 2011);  c.5% annually in Victoria between 1980 and 2010 (D. Rogers in litt. 2012); by over 65% in Tasmania since the 1950s (Reid and Park 2003); and by 40% across 49 Australian sites between c.1983 and c.2007 (D. Rogers et al. in litt. 2009, Birds Australia in litt. to Garnett et al. 2011). Declines seem equally worrying in North-western Australia (D. Rogers in litt. 2012). Furthermore, the population at Saemangeum has decreased by 32.6% (c.1,800 birds) between 2006 and 2008 due to the reclamation of tidal flats (Moores 2006, Moores et al. in litt. 2008). Although these sites only represent a proportion of the wintering and stopover populations, threats are widespread and are projected to cause population declines in the future (D. Rogers in litt. 2009), hence an overall decline of 30-49% over 30 years (three generations) is precautionarily estimated. Given that more reclamation is proposed within the Yellow Sea,with widespread threats elsewhere on the flyway, it is assumed the declines of 30-49% over 30 years will continue. It is possible that further analysis of available data may reveal even higher rates of decline (D. Rogers in litt. 2009).

Behaviour This migratory wader nests from early May to late June, often in small colonies of 2-3 pairs, with an average clutch size of four eggs. It probably delays maturity longer than most shorebirds, perhaps not breeding until 3-4 years old (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Rogers 2006). Habitat The species breeds on open mossy or transitional bogs, moss-lichen bogs and wet meadows, and on the swampy shores of small lakes; in the non-breeding season it is essentially coastal, occurring at estuaries, mangrove swamps, saltmarshes and intertidal flats, particularly those with extensive seagrass (Zosteraceae) meadows. It often roosts in salt-marshes, behind mangroves, or on sandy beaches (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Diet Its diet on breeding grounds includes insects, such as larvae of beetles and flies, and amphipods. Berries are also consumed during the autumn migration. In non-breeding areas it feeds on marine invertebrates, preferentially taking crabs and small molluscs but also feeding on other crustaceans and polychaete worms (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

Habitat loss on the Yellow Sea staging grounds is probably the primary threat to the species, with the amount of intertidal habitat lost to reclamation projects estimated at 50% or more (D. Rogers in litt. 2012). It is although it is difficult to ascertain whether declines seen at reclaimed sites such as Saemangeum represent true declines, or whether the birds have simply been displaced (Moores et al. in litt. 2008, D. Rogers in litt. 2009), but the former seems more probable, given the huge scale of habitat loss in the Yellow Sea. Wetland degradation in the Yellow Sea may affect the species where it stages on migration (Bamford et al. 2008, van de Kam et al. 2010). Further threats may include disturbance at the nesting and feeding sites, direct persecution throughout its range, and a decrease in the availability of food due to pollution in at stopover points in South Korea. Furthermore, females probably tend to migrate further south to southern Australian wetlands which are more threatened than those in northern Australia (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

Conservation Actions Underway
No specific conservation action is known for this species, although population trends are being monitored in Australia as part of the Monitoring Yellow Sea Migrants in Australia project. The species is included in the action plan for Australian birds 2010 (Garnett et al. 2011).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Identify key stopover areas and prevent their reclamation. Continue to monitor population trends. Restore reclaimed wetland sites. Campaign to stop shorebird hunting in Asian countries. Legally protect it in all range states. Survey the breeding grounds for potential threats.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Amano, H. 2006. Status of migratory waterbirds inhabiting tidal flats in Japan. Chikyu Kankyo 11(2): 215-226.

Bamford, M.; Watkins, D.; Bancroft, W.; Tischler, G.; Wahl, J. 2008. Migratory shorebirds of the East Asian-Australasian flyway: population estimates and internationally important sites. Wetlands International - Oceania, Canberra.

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

del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; 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.

Garnett, S.T., Szabo, J.K. and Dutson, G. 2011. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.

Gosbell, K .and Clemens, R. 2006. Population monitoring in Australia: some insights after 25 years and future directions. Stilt 50: 162-175.

Moores, N. 2006. South Korea's shorebirds: a review of abundance, distribution, threats and conservation status. Stilt 50: 62-72.

Reid, T.; Park, P. 2003. Continuing decline of Eastern Curlew, Numenius madagascariensis, in Tasmania. Emu 103: 279-283.

Rogers, D. I. 2006. Hidden Costs: Challenges faced by Migratory Shorebirds living on Intertidal Flats. Charles Sturt University.

van de Kam, J., Battley, P. F., McCaffery, B. J., Rogers, D. I., Hong, J-S., Moores, N., Ki, J-Y., Lewis, J., Piersma, T. 2010. Invisible Connections: Why migrating shorebirds need the Yellow Sea. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne.

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

Wilson, H.B., Kendall, B.E., Fuller, R.A., Milton, D.A. & Posingham, H.P. 2011. Analyzing variability and the rate of decline of migratory shorebirds in Moreton Bay, Australia. Conservation Biology 25: 758-766.

Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001) together with new information collated since the publication of the Red Data Book

Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001), together with new information collated since the publication of the Red Data Book

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
Benstead, P., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Derhé, M., Ekstrom, J., Harding, M.

Amano, H., Moores, N., Rogers, D., Crockford, N.

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

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Numenius madagascariensis. Downloaded from on 31/08/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 31/08/2015.

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 - Far eastern curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Scolopacidae (Sandpipers, Snipes, Phalaropes)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1766)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 727,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species