The curlews (/ˈkɜːrljuː/), genus Numenius, are a group of eight species of birds, characterised by long, slender, downcurved bills and mottled brown plumage. The English name is imitative of the Eurasian curlew's call, but may have been influenced by the Old French corliu, "messenger", from courir , "to run". It was first recorded in 1377 in Langland's Piers Plowman "Fissch to lyue in þe flode..Þe corlue by kynde of þe eyre".[1] In Europe "curlew" usually refers to one species, the Eurasian curlew Numenius arquata.

They are one of the most ancient lineages of scolopacid waders, together with the godwits which look similar but have straight bills.[2]

Curlews feed on mud or very soft ground, searching for worms and other invertebrates with their long bills. They will also take crabs and similar items.

Curlews enjoy a worldwide distribution. Most species show strong migratory habits and consequently one or more species can be encountered at different times of the year in Europe, Ireland, Britain, Iberia, Iceland, Africa, Southeast Asia, Siberia, North America, South America and Australasia.

The distribution of curlews has altered considerably in the past hundred years as a result of changing agricultural practices. Reclamation and drainage of marshy fields and moorland, and afforestation of the latter, have led to local decreases, while conversion of forest to grassland in some parts of Scandinavia has led to increases there.[3]

The stone-curlews are not true curlews (family Scolopacidae) but members of the family Burhinidae, which is in the same order Charadriiformes, but only distantly related within that.

Curlew - natures pics
Long-billed curlew (Numenius americanus)
Fishing Pier, Goose Island State Park, Texas
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Scolopacidae
Genus: Numenius
Brisson, 1760
Type species
Scolopax arquata
Linnaeus, 1758

N. phaeopus
N. tenuirostris
N. arquata
N. americanus
N. madagascariensis
N. minutus
N. borealis
N. tahitiensis


Palnumenius Miller, 1942


The genus Numenius was erected by the French scientist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in his Ornithologie published in 1760.[4] The type species is the Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata).[5] The Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus had introduced the genus Numenius in the 6th edition of his Systema Naturae published in 1748,[6] but Linnaeus dropped the genus in the important tenth edition of 1758 and put the curlews together with the woodcocks in the genus Scolopax.[7][8] As the publication date of Linnaeus's sixth edition was before the 1758 starting point of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, Brisson and not Linnaeus is considered as the authority for the genus.[9] The name Numenius is from Ancient Greek noumenios, a bird mentioned by Hesychius. It is associated with the curlews because it appears to be derived from neos, "new" and mene "moon", referring to the crescent-shaped bill.[10]

The genus contains eight species:[11]

The Late Eocene (Montmartre Formation, some 35 mya) fossil Limosa gypsorum of France was originally placed in Numenius and may in fact belong there.[12] Apart from that, a Late Pleistocene curlew from San Josecito Cave, Mexico has been described.[13] This fossil was initially placed in a distinct genus, Palnumenius, but was actually a chronospecies or paleosubspecies related to the long-billed curlew.

The upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) is an odd bird which is the closest relative of the curlews.[2] It is distinguished from them by its yellow legs, long tail, and shorter, less curved bill.


  1. ^ "Curlew". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b Thomas, Gavin H.; Wills, Matthew A. & Székely, Tamás (2004): "A supertree approach to shorebird phylogeny".BMC Evol. Biol. 4: 28. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-4-28 PMID 15329156 Supplementary Material
  3. ^ Encyclopedia of the Animal World (1977): Vol.6: 518–519. Bay Books, Sydney.
  4. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, especes & leurs variétés (in French and Latin). Volume 1. Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. Vol. 1, p. 48, Vol. 5, p. 311.
  5. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1934). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 260.
  6. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1748). Systema Naturae sistens regna tria naturæ, in classes et ordines, genera et species redacta tabulisque aeneis illustrata (in Latin) (6th ed.). Stockholmiae (Stockholm): Godofr, Kiesewetteri. pp. 16, 26.
  7. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturæ per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Volume 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 145.
  8. ^ Allen, J.A. (1910). "Collation of Brisson's genera of birds with those of Linnaeus". Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. 28: 317–335.
  9. ^ "Article 3". International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (4th ed.). London: International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature. 1999. ISBN 978-0-85301-006-7.
  10. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 276. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  11. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2019). "Sandpipers, snipes, coursers". World Bird List Version 9.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 26 June 2019.
  12. ^ Olson, Storrs L. (1985): Section X.D.2.b. Scolopacidae. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 174–175. Academic Press, New York.
  13. ^ Arroyo-Cabrales, Joaquín & Johnson, Eileen (2003): Catálogo de los ejemplares tipo procedentes de la Cueva de San Josecito, Nuevo León, México. Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Geológicas 20(1): 79–93. [Spanish with English abstract] PDF fulltext

Further reading

  • Bodsworth, Fred (1987). Last of the Curlews. ISBN 0-396-09187-3. (originally published in 1954)
Bush stone-curlew

The bush stone-curlew or bush thick-knee (Burhinus grallarius, obsolete name Burhinus magnirostris) is a large (55–60 cm wingspan), ground-dwelling bird endemic to Australia.

Curlew, California

Curlew is an unincorporated community in Imperial County, California. It is located on a former branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad 8.5 miles (14 km) north of Holtville, at an elevation of 89 feet (27 m) below sea level.

Curlew Air Force Station

Curlew Air Force Station (ADC ID: LP-6, P-6) is a closed United States Air Force General Surveillance Radar station. It is located 16 miles (26 km) north of Republic, Washington. It was closed in 1959.

Curlew Island (South Australia)

Curlew Island is a low mangrove-dominated island located near the head of Spencer Gulf, South Australia. It lies between Port Augusta and Point Lowly and is adjacent to the Playford B Power Station. Several ships ran aground in the shallow waters surrounding the island during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Several recreational boating accidents have also occurred in the vicinity (some involving fatalities). The locality is known for its fishing and for occasional whale sightings in the winter.

Curlew Lake State Park

Curlew Lake State Park is a public recreation area located on the eastern shore of Curlew Lake five miles (8.0 km) northeast of Republic in Ferry County, Washington. The state park's 87 acres (35 ha) include facilities for picnicking, camping, hiking, biking, boating, fishing, and swimming.

Curlew Pond

Curlew Pond is a 43-acre (170,000 m2) natural warm water pond in Plymouth, Massachusetts, located in the Myles Standish State Forest.

Called "Clew Pond" in the 19th century, the pond is located north of Rocky Pond and south of Kings Pond. The average depth is 11 feet (3.4 m) and the maximum depth is 31 feet (9.4 m). The source for this pond is groundwater, and there is no outlet. Access to the pond, suitable for car top boats and canoes, is at the northern shore. There are two beaches located on both sides to the boat access.

About half of the pond is surrounded by the Curlew Pond public camping area of the Myles Standish State Forest, although a number of privately leased cottages ring the northeastern shore of the pond. The southern section is adjacent to the privately owned Blueberry Hill Camping Area.The pond was in the vicinity of a large forest fire in 1902 which burned thousands of acres of forest.

Curlew sandpiper

The curlew sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) is a small wader that breeds on the tundra of Arctic Siberia. The genus name is from Ancient Greek kalidris or skalidris, a term used by Aristotle for some grey-coloured waterside birds. The specific ferruginea is from Latin ferrugo, ferruginis, "iron rust" referring to its colour in breeding plumage.It is strongly migratory, wintering mainly in Africa, but also in south and southeast Asia and in Australia and New Zealand. It is a vagrant to North America.

Eskimo curlew

The Eskimo curlew (Numenius borealis), or the northern curlew, is a species of curlew in the family Scolopacidae. It was one of the most numerous shorebirds in the tundra of western Arctic Canada and Alaska, with approximately two million birds killed per year in the late 1800s. As there has not been a reliable sighting since 1987 or a confirmed sighting since 1963, the Eskimo curlew is now considered possibly extinct. The bird was about 30 cm (12 in) long and fed mostly on insects and berries.

Eurasian curlew

The Eurasian curlew or common curlew (Numenius arquata) is a wader in the large family Scolopacidae. It is one of the most widespread of the curlews, breeding across temperate Europe and Asia. In Europe, this species is often referred to just as the "curlew", and in Scotland known as the "whaup" in Scots.

This is the largest wader in its range, at 50–60 cm (20–24 in) in length, with an 89–106 cm (35–42 in) wingspan and a body weight of 410–1,360 g (0.90–3.00 lb). It is mainly greyish brown, with a white back, greyish-blue legs and a very long curved bill. Males and females look identical, but the bill is longest in the adult female. It is generally not possible to recognize the sex of a single Eurasian curlew, or even several ones, as there is much variation; telling male and female of a mated pair apart is usually possible however.

The familiar call is a loud curloo-oo.

The only similar species over most of the curlew's range is the whimbrel (N. phaeopus). The whimbrel is smaller and has a shorter bill with a kink rather than a smooth curve. Flying curlews may also resemble bar-tailed godwits (Limosa lapponica) in their winter plumages; however, the latter have a smaller body, a slightly upturned beak, and legs that do not reach far beyond their tail tips. The Eurasian curlew's feet are longer, forming a conspicuous "point".

The curlew exists as a migratory species over most of its range, wintering in Africa, southern Europe and south Asia. Occasionally a vagrant individual reaches places far from its normal range, such as Nova Scotia and the Marianas. It is present all year in the milder climates of Ireland and the United Kingdom and its adjacent European coasts.

Eurasian stone-curlew

The Eurasian stone curlew, Eurasian thick-knee, or simply stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) is a northern species of the Burhinidae (stone-curlew) bird family.

It is a fairly large wader though is mid-sized by the standards of its family. Length ranges from 38 to 46 cm (15 to 18 in), wingspan from 76 to 88 cm (30 to 35 in) and weight from 290 to 535 g (10.2 to 18.9 oz). with a strong yellow and black beak, large yellow eyes (which give it a "reptilian", or "goggle-eyed" appearance), and cryptic plumage. The bird is striking in flight, with black and white wing markings.

Despite being classed as a wader, this species prefers dry open habitats with some bare ground. It is largely nocturnal, particularly when singing its loud wailing songs, which are reminiscent of that of curlews. Food consists of insects and other small invertebrates, and occasionally small reptiles, frogs and rodents. It lays 2–3 eggs in a narrow scrape in the ground.

The Eurasian stone curlew occurs throughout Europe, north Africa and southwestern Asia. It is a summer migrant in the more temperate European and Asian parts of its range, wintering in Africa. Although the species is of Least Concern, some populations are showing declines due to agricultural intensification. For example, a French population has declined with 26% over 14 years.

Far Eastern curlew

The Far Eastern curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) is a large shorebird most similar in appearance to the long-billed curlew, but slightly larger. It is mostly brown in color, differentiated from other curlews by its plain, unpatterned brown underwing. It is not only the largest curlew but probably the world's largest sandpiper, at 60–66 cm (24–26 in) in length and 110 cm (43 in) across the wings. The body is reportedly 565–1,150 g (1.246–2.535 lb), which may be equaled by the Eurasian curlew. The extremely long bill, at 12.8–20.1 cm (5.0–7.9 in) in length, rivals the bill size of the closely related long-billed curlew as the longest bill for a sandpiper.

The Far Eastern curlew spends its breeding season in northeastern Asia, including Siberia to Kamchatka, and Mongolia. Its breeding habitat is composed of marshy and swampy wetlands and lakeshores. Most individuals winter in coastal Australia, with a few heading to South Korea, Thailand, Philippines and New Zealand, where they stay at estuaries, beaches, and salt marshes. During its migration the Far Eastern curlew commonly passes the Yellow Sea.

It uses its long, decurved bill to probe for invertebrates in the mud. It may feed in solitary but it generally congregates in large flocks to migrate or roost. Its call is a sharp, clear whistle, cuuue-reee, often repeated.

As of 2006, there are an estimated 38,000 individuals in the world. Formerly classified as least concern by IUCN, it was found to have been rarer than previously believed and thus its status was updated to Vulnerable in the 2010 IUCN red list of threatened species.In Australia its status under the EPBC Act is Critically Endangered.

HMAS Curlew

HMAS Curlew (M 1121) was a Ton-class minesweeper operated by the Royal Navy (as HMS Chediston) from 1953 to 1961, and the Royal Australian Navy from 1962 to 1991. During her Australian service, the ship operated off Malaysia during the Indonesia–Malaysia confrontation during the mid-1960s, then was modified for use as a minehunter. Delays in bringing a replacement class into service kept Curlew operational until 1990, and she was sold into civilian service in 1991.

Kneehill County

Kneehill County is a municipal district situated in Division No. 5, Alberta, central Alberta.

The presence of oil and natural gas in the region has attracted some industry.

Long-billed curlew

The long-billed curlew (Numenius americanus) is a large North American shorebird of the family Scolopacidae. This species was also called "sicklebird" and the "candlestick bird". The species breeds in central and western North America, migrating southward and coastward for the winter.

SS Empire Curlew (1945)

Empire Curlew was a 4,273 GRT ferry that was built in 1945 as LST Mk.3 HMS LST 3042 by Harland & Wolff, Govan, Scotland for the Royal Navy. In 1947, she was renamed HMS Hunter. During the Suez Crisis in 1956, she was transferred to the Ministry of Transport and renamed Empire Curlew. She served until 1962, when she was scrapped.

Slender-billed curlew

The slender-billed curlew (Numenius tenuirostris) is a bird in the wader family Scolopacidae. It breeds in marshes and peat bogs in the taiga of Siberia, and is migratory, formerly wintering in shallow freshwater habitats around the Mediterranean. This species has occurred as a vagrant in western Europe, the Canary Islands, the Azores, Oman, Canada and Japan.


The stone-curlews, also known as dikkops or thick-knees, consist of nine species within the family Burhinidae, and are found throughout the tropical and temperate parts of the world, with two species found in Australia. Despite the group being classified as waders, most species have a preference for arid or semi-arid habitats.

USS Curlew (AM-69)

The third USS Curlew (AM-69/IX-170) was a Catbird-class minesweeper in the United States Navy during World War II.

Curlew was built in 1938 by Charleston Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Charleston, South Carolina, as Kittiwake; purchased by the U.S. Navy on 6 August 1940; and commissioned 7 November 1940, Lieutenant (junior grade) W. T. Patrick, USNR, in command.


The whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a wader in the large family Scolopacidae. It is one of the most widespread of the curlews, breeding across much of subarctic North America, Asia and Europe as far south as Scotland.

The whimbrel is a migratory bird wintering on coasts in Africa, southern North America, South America, and South Asia into Australasia. It is also a coastal bird during migration. It is fairly gregarious outside the breeding season.


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