Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata


Justification of Red List Category
This widespread species remains common in many parts of its range, and determining population trends is problematic. Nevertheless, declines have been recorded in several key populations and overall a moderately rapid global decline is estimated. As a result, the species has been uplisted to Near Threatened; it almost qualifies for threatened under criteria A2bcd+3bcd+4bcd.

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number c.835,000-1,310,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2016). The European population is estimated at 212,000-292,000 pairs, which equates to 425,000-584,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015), and is roughly equivalent to 647,500-876,000 individuals.

Trend justification
Data from 2007 return estimated three-generation declines of 26.1-34.1%. However, owing to the uncertainty over whether declines in southern populations have been compensated for by increases in northern populations, the global trend is suspected to fall within the band 20-30% in the past 15 years (three generations). The European population is estimated to be decreasing by 30-49% in 31.2 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015).

Distribution and population

This species is widely distributed, breeding across Europe from the British Isles, through north-western Europe and Scandinavia into Russia extending east into Siberia, east of Lake Baikal. It winters around the coasts of north-west Europe, the Mediterranean, Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Subcontinent, South-East Asia, Japan and the Sundas. It has a large global population estimated to number c.835,000-1,310,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2016). The breeding population in Europe (212,000-292,000 pairs) has declined in recent years, with the population most recently estimated to be decreasing by 30-49% in 31.2 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015). The population in the United Kingdom has undergone a 62% decline over the period 1970-2012, and a 46% decline over the period 1995-2013 (Harris et al. 2014, Hayhow et al. 2014). A range decline of 78% has been calculated in Ireland between 1968-1972 and 2007-2011 (Balmer et al. 2013). Long-term declines have occurred in Norway, Sweden and Finland since the early 1980s; these declines continue except in Finland where the population stabilised between 2001-12 (BirdLife International 2015). Whilst the population appears to have fluctuated in Belarus, the population in Estonia declined by 50-70% from 1980-2012 (Elts et al. 2013, BirdLife International 2015) and long-term declines estimated at 5-30% since the 1980s have occurred in European Russia, which is estimated to support 45,000-100,000 breeding pairs (BirdLife International 2015). Long-term declines of between 18-50% since the early 1980s have also been recorded in the Netherlands and Germany (Hötker et al. 2007, BirdLife International 2015); Dutch declines continue but the German population has shown recent signs of stability (BirdLife International 2015). The long-term breeding population trend in France is stable but has declined by 20-25% over the period 1996-2010 (BirdLife International 2015). Declines have also been reported for the Czech Republic, Denmark (down 17% between 1999-2011, though this followed a longer-term increase), Lithuania (20-30% per decade [L. Raudonikis in litt. 2007]), Poland (50-60% decline between 2000 and 2013), Slovakia, and Switzerland and the European breeding population overall is estimated to be decreasing by 30-49% in 31.2 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015). Unquantified, but potentially highly significant, declines have also been recorded in the central Asian populations of N. a. orientalis (J. Kamp and S. Sklyarenko in litt. 2007). In eastern Siberia (I. Fefelov in litt. 2007) breeding populations are apparently stable and apparent increases in wintering populations along the East Atlantic Flyway (van Roomen et al. 2015), including the Wadden Sea (Laursen and Karsten 2005, Meltofte et al. 2009, Laursen and Fricke 2013), as well as on the Adriatic coast (Gusson et al. 2005), and in East Asia (M. Barter in litt. 2007) suggest that breeding populations, probably in European Russia and northern Siberia have perhaps increased. Other possible explanations – or contributing factors - for the discrepancy between breeding and wintering trends include data limitations (for both breeding and wintering trend data) and trends being obscured by a climate-mediated shift in wintering range (Brown 2015).
Overall, analysis of the compiled trend data indicate three generation (15 year) estimate of decline of between 26% and 34% (Hillis 2003, BirdLife International 2004, Thorup 2006, Wetlands International 2006, A. J. van Djik in litt. 2007, M. Barter in litt. 2007, A. Copland in litt. 2007, M. Boschert in litt. 2007, Eaton et al. 2007, R. Gregory in litt. 2007). Owing to the uncertainty over whether declines in southern populations have been compensated by increases in northern populations, the global trend is suspected to fall within the band 20-30% declines in the past 15 years or three generations.


Behaviour Most populations of this species are fully migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and breed from April to August (Hayman et al. 1986) in solitary territorial pairs (Johnsgard 1981), occasionally also forming small colonies (Flint et al. 1984). After breeding adults gather on coasts (from July onwards) (Hayman et al. 1986) for the post-breeding moult (Snow and Perrins 1998) before migrating south to the wintering grounds between July and November (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The species departs its wintering grounds again from February through to May, although non-breeders may remain in the wintering areas all-year-round (del Hoyo et al. 1996). During the winter the species usually forages singly or in small groups (del Hoyo et al. 1996) occasionally aggregating into flocks of several thousand individuals, especially at roosting sites (Snow and Perrins 1998). Habitat Breeding The species breeds on upland moors, peat bogs, swampy and dry heathlands, fens, open grassy or boggy areas in forests, damp grasslands, meadows (del Hoyo et al. 1996), non-intensive farmland in river valleys (Hayman et al. 1986), dune valleys and coastal marshlands (del Hoyo et al. 1996) Non-breeding During the winter the species frequents muddy coasts, bays and estuaries (del Hoyo et al. 1996) with tidal mudflats and sandflats (Snow and Perrins 1998), rocky and sandy beaches with many pools (Johnsgard 1981, Snow and Perrins 1998), mangroves, saltmarshes (Snow and Perrins 1998), coastal meadows and pasture (Johnsgard 1981, Navedo et al. 2013) and muddy shores of coastal lagoons (Johnsgard 1981), inland lakes and rivers (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It also utilises wet grassland and arable fields during migration (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Diet Its diet consists chiefly of annelid worms and terrestrial insects (del Hoyo et al. 1996) (e.g. Coleoptera and Orthoptera) (Johnsgard 1981) especially during the summer (del Hoyo et al. 1996), although it will also take crustaceans, molluscs, polychaete worms (del Hoyo et al. 1996), spiders (Johnsgard 1981), berries and seeds, as well as occasionally small fish, amphibians, lizards, young birds and small rodents (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Breeding site The nest is a shallow depression on the ground or on a mound (Flint et al. 1984) in the open or in the cover of grass or sedge (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Management information A study into the effects of shellfish harvesting by hand in coastal intertidal habitats recommends that the harvesting load should be limited to -1 during this species's autumn migration (Navedo and Masero 2007).


The species is threatened by the loss and fragmentation of moorland habitats as a result of afforestation (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Johnsgard 1981) and of marginal grassland habitats as a result of agricultural intensification and improvement (Johnsgard 1981, Baines 1988, del Hoyo et al. 1996) (e.g. drainage, inorganic fertilisation and reseeding) (Baines 1988). The species also suffers from high egg and chick mortalities due to agricultural practices (e.g. Tuellinghoff & Bergmann 1993, Grant 1997, Fisher & Walker 2015) human disturbance (Boschert and Rupp 1993) and higher predation rates if nesting on improved grasslands or in fragmented landscapes (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Valkama and Korpimäki 1999, Douglas et al. 2014). Conversely some populations have declined following abandonment of farmland and subsequent increases in the height of vegetation (Broyer and Roche 1991), rendering large areas unsuitable for nesting. Climate change is projected to have a large negative impact on this species during the breeding season (Huntley et al. 2007, Renwick et al. 2012). Expansion of renewable energy projects including wind farms can also have an impact although more studies are required (Pearce-Higgins et al. 2009). It has also suffered population declines as a result of hunting (Johnsgard 1981), and is susceptible to avian influenza so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus (Melville and Shortridge 2006)
Wintering populations are threatened by disturbance on intertidal mudflats (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Burton et al. 2002a, 2002b) (e.g. from construction work (Burton et al. 2002a) and foot-traffic (Burton et al. 2002b)), development on high-tide roosting sites, pollution (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and the flooding of estuarine mudflats and saltmarshes as a result of tidal barrage construction (Burton 2006, Porter et al. 2008). The species is also threatened by the degradation of migrational staging areas owing to land reclamation, pollution, human disturbance and reduced river flows (Kelin and Qiang 2006). Local populations of this species have also declined owing to hunting pressures (del Hoyo et al. 1996), and mechanised shellfish harvesting (Taylor and Dodd 2013).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
Annex I and II of the EU Birds Directive. A management plan for the species, updated for 2007-2009, was published in 2007, covering the EU portion of the species's range (Jensen and Lutz 2007), with a new plan published in 2015 (Brown 2015). A five year moratorium on hunting the species was implemented in France in July 2008 (A. Duncan in litt. 2008), but it was partially lifted in 2012 (D. Brown in litt. 2016). The species occurs in a large number of protected areas throughout its range and features in several national monitoring schemes.

Conservation Actions Proposed
A range of conservation actions were proposed as part of the updated action plan (Brown 2015), which are listed here. Ensure protection for key sites for this species, and make sure these are appropriately managed. Raise awareness for the species, particularly amongst farming communities, and work proactively with farmers to promote land management techniques that would benefit the species. If possible, try to reinstate the moratorium of hunting the species in France, and quantify the level of hunting in other areas (such as European Russia). Ensure that illegal hunting is prevented where the species is not allowed to be hunted. Conduct surveys to update population and trend estimates, gain greater insight into the species's life history, better understand its range and movements, and better understand the threats it faces. Further research the impact of certain threats (e.g. windfarms and pollution) on this species.


55cm. Large wader with long down-curved bill. Mottled or streaked brown plumage with whiter belly and undertail. In flight show pointed whitish rump and barred tail as well as mottled whitish underwings. Outer primaries contrastingly dark and flight slow and gull-like. Similar spp. European race of N. phaeopus similar but with shorter bill and dark crown side and eye-stripe. N. tahitiensis, N. americanus and N. madagascariensis also similar but dark rumps and underwings.


Text account compilers
Westrip, J., Ashpole, J, Harding, M., Derhé, M., Malpas, L., Bird, J., Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S.

Flensted, K., Bracken, F., Chan, S., Bragin, E., Copland, A., Brown, D., Sorrenti, M., Boschert, M., Raudonikis, L., Barter, M., Mischenko, A., Sklyarenko, S., Fefelov, I., Kamp, J., van Dijk, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Numenius arquata. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 05/12/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 05/12/2022.