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Key facts

Scientific name: Numenius arquata
Status: Resident breeding species

Breeding birds: 66,000 pairs

Wintering birds: 140,000

Conservation status: Red
Length: 50 – 60 cm
Wingspan: 80 – 100 cm
Weight: 400 – 1400 g

What do curlews look like?

In breeding season curlews have a pale buff upper mantle that has dark spots and bars. The lower back and rump are white, and the square-shaped tail is dark brown with darker bars. The upperwing is pale buff with dark spots and the flight feathers are black.

They have a reddish-brown wash on the breast with dark streaks which get heavier towards the lower breast. The belly, vent, and undertail coverts are white with narrow dark streaks, and the flank has dark V-shaped streaks. The underwing is white with streaks and spots.

Curlews have a white chin and upperthroat with brown streaks, the rest of the head is brown with darker streaks, and they have an indistinct white supercilium. The long, downward curved bill is dark brown with a pink base to the lower mandible. The eyes are dark brown, and the legs and feet are blue-grey to greenish-grey.

Out of breeding season curlews are duller. Both sexes are similar although the female is larger and has a longer bill.

Juveniles resemble the adults but have more buff on the breast and their flanks are more heavily streaked. The upperparts have buff spots and fringes.

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How do curlews breed?

Curlews breed from April to early July. They nest in open or covered grass or sedge. The male makes a large, crude depression in the ground which the female lines with fine grasses and feathers.

Curlews lay 4 olive-brown eggs with dark markings which are incubated by both parents for 27-29 days. Chicks are precocial and covered in yellowy-buff down with dark spots. The belly is cream-coloured and the crown is dark. Both parents care for them until they fledge 32-40 days after hatching. They are sexually mature at 2 years.

What do curlews eat?

Curlews eat mainly crustaceans, worms, molluscs, seeds and berries. Occasionally they will also supplement their diet with small fish, amphibians, young birds and eggs.


Where can I see curlews?

Curlews can be seen all year round on the coastlines of the UK.

What do curlews sound like?

Timo Tschentscher/xeno-canto

Did you know?

In Scotland curlews are known as whaups.

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