BASC Species of the Month

Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata)

Curlew is Britain’s largest wader and was once common throughout the UK, which hosts around 25 per cent of the international population.

How to recognise them

Curlew are large birds with a plain, speckled appearance of brown, cream/buff, grey and white feathers with a white underside.
The main visible differences between the sexes are the female’s larger overall size and longer bill. Juveniles have much shorter bills.

Where they can be found

The Eurasian curlew can be spotted for much of the year on coasts, estuaries, and flooded pastures. They migrate inland to breed on moorland or grassland.

Habitat they like

Rough, damp and unimproved pasture with tussocks to forage and feed in are preferred.
For nesting, curlew choose flat ground, drier than the ground that they forage in and generally away from areas predators may inhabit such as trees and shrubs.
They will avoid heavily stocked livestock fields, ideally nesting on meadows with grass 20-30cm high where they can be camouflaged from predators with the ability to put their heads overs the crop to observe the surrounding area.
Curlew also need insect-rich grassland for chicks to forage in during spring and summer.

Any special characteristics

Curlew are site faithful and return to the same area to nest in year on year.
Adults have a distinctive long bill which they use to probe the ground for worms, caterpillars and invertebrates.
Curlew have an evocative bubbling call.

Their conservation status

Curlew are one of the highest conservation priority birds. In the UK alone curlew population numbers have declined by about 50 per cent, with rapid declines across Europe being recorded, too.
Curlew are classified as vulnerable on the European Red List, which means that the species is at risk of extinction.

Any projects BASC are involved which are benefit/protect them

BASC has held joint workshops with the BTO aimed at providing information and garnering support for curlew conservation.
We have supported curlew conservation efforts in North East Wales with the provision of electric fencing equipment to erect temporary electric fences around curlew nest sites. These should only be put up and maintained by those with experience of working with ground-nesting birds. If you find a nest on your land and would like to protect it in this way, please contact BASC for support.
BASC is a member of Gylfinir Cymru (Curlew Wales) which is a pan-organisational group of government and non-government conservation and land management organisations committed to driving forward the strategic direction to conserve breeding curlew in Wales.
We’ve collated nationwide sightings of curlew from members and signposted members to local action groups.

Breeding information

The first nests are made in April and most should have at least one egg by 1 May. Curlew make their nests in the sward by pressing down and flattening the grass to form a shallow cups.
Curlew usually lay up to four eggs, though older birds may produce less eggs. Second attempt at nesting, when the first nesting attempt failed, may also produce a smaller clutch. The second nest attempt will only happen if the eggs from the first nest were lost. If chicks are lost, curlew will not try again until next season.

Nests are usually difficult to find, as curlew are territorial and cautious birds. They will try and disguise the exact location by landing a long way from the nest and walking through long grass to reach it.

Eggs are incubated for 27-29 days. The period from hatching to fledging is about 32-38 days.

Any other interesting information

Once the chicks have hatched, the female leaves the male to do most of the rearing. Both male and female birds take turns to sit on the nest before eggs hatch.

Adult birds can live exceptionally long lives of up to 20 or even 30 years.