Scientific name: Numenius arquata

Photo by Laurie Campbell


The curlew is the UK’s largest breeding wader.  It has long legs and a very long downward-curved bill.   The upper part of the body is grey-brown with bars and the underside pale with dark lines down the neck and breast and bars underneath.   The neck is yellow-brown and barred.  In flight the outer wing feathers appear darker than the rest of the body, the tail is white and barred and there is a thick white V-shaped strip that extends from the tail up the back.

Habitat and Distribution

Curlews are found along the coastline.  They congregate at high tide and often roost in nearby fields.  When feeding they often wade in deep water and sometimes swim short distances.  They are very widely distributed, being found around most of the UK, African and Asian coastlines and throughout much of Europe and Russia.  They are not found in the Americas.

Global distribution of the curlew (IUCN 2011)


The curlew’s diet varies depending on the season.  In winter they use their long bill to probe into soft mud for crabs, ragworms, lugworms, cockles, marine snails, shrimps, small shellfish and earthworms.  In summer they feed on insects and larvae, spiders and worms.


Many Scottish curlews winter in Ireland.  They arrive back on their Scottish breeding grounds in April.  They are ground-nesting birds and do not have a traditional ‘nest’ as such; rather, the male makes several scrapes in the ground, one of which the female selects in which to lay eggs.  She lines it with suitable nesting material and lays 2-5 eggs.  Both parents share the 27-29 day incubation.  The chicks are able to feed themselves once they hatch and the female often departs before they fledge, at 32-38 days.

Status and Threats

Eurasian curlews are classified by the IUCN as ‘Near Threatened’.   Within Europe they have declined and probably within Scotland as well.  The  main threat is habitat reduction through intensive agriculture, draining of wetlands and afforestation.

Within the UK they are included on the Amber List of UK birds of conservation concern.