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Eurasian curlew

Numenius arquata

Photo by Jari Peltomäki (Luonto Portti)

Common name:
Eurasian curlew (en); maçarico-real (pt); courlis cendré (fr); zarapito real (es)große brachvogel (de)

Order Charadriiformes
Family Scolopacidae

This species breeds from France and Ireland to northern Scandinavia and east, through Eastern Europe and Russia as far as northern Kazakhstan, northern Mongolia and north-eastern China. Most population migrate to winter along the coasts of western and southern Europe, along the coasts of southern Asia, China, southern Japan and Indonesia, along all the coasts of Africa and also inland in Africa, in large wetlands in the Sahel, the Rift Valley and the Okawango river basin.

These large waders are 50-60 cm long and have a wingspan of 90-105 cm. They weigh 410-1.360 g.

The Eurasian curlew breeds in upland moors, peat bogs, swampy and dry heathlands, fens, open grassy or boggy areas in forests, damp grasslands, meadows, non-intensive farmland in river valleys, dune valleys and coastal marshlands. Outside the breeding season they are found in muddy coasts, bays and estuaries with tidal mudflats and sandflats, rocky and sandy beaches with many pools, mangroves, saltmarshes, coastal meadows, wet grasslands, arable land, and muddy shores of coastal lagoons, inland lakes and rivers.

On the breeding grounds they mainly eat insects and their larvae, especially grasshoppers and beetles, but also ants, crane flies, earwigs, flies and moths. They also eat earthworms, and occasionally freshwater crustaceans, amphibians, lizards, chicks and small mammals, and sometimes fruits and other plant material. Outside the breeding season they prey on polychaete worms, molluscs, crabs, shrimps and amphipods, as well as earthworms, insects and spiders, small fishes, amphibians, chicks and eggs of other birds, small mammals and, very occasionally, seeds.

Eurasian curlews breed in April-July. They nest on a large depression in the ground, lined with dry grass and a few feathers, often situated on a tussock or low hummock, among grass or crops, or completely exposed. There the female lays 3-6 light greenish eggs with light brown spots, which are incubated by both sexes for 27-29 days. The chicks are precocial and leave the nest soon after hatching being able to feed themselves. They rely on both parents for protection against predators and adverse weather and fledge 32-38 days after hatching.

IUCN status – NT (Near-Threatened)
This species has a very large breeding range and a global population roughly estimated at 77.000-1.065.000 individuals. The more southern breeding populations have declined on average by 30% in recent decades, but the trend for the more northern population is uncertain and may compensate these declines in the south. The main threat affecting the Eurasian curlew is habitat destruction and fragmentation, as a result of afforestation and agricultural intensification and improvement. Conversely, populations in the central Asian steppes have declined following abandonment of farmland and subsequent increases in the height of vegetation, rendering large areas unsuitable for nesting. The species is also threatened by the degradation of migratory staging areas and wintering areas, owing to land reclamation, pollution, human disturbance, reduced river flows and, in some areas, due to hunting pressure.

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