Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis


Justification of Red List category
This species has been uplisted to Endangered as new information suggests it is undergoing a very rapid population decline which is suspected to have been primarily driven by habitat loss and deterioration in the Yellow Sea region. Further proposed reclamation projects are predicted to cause additional declines in the future

Population justification
Wetlands International (2006) estimated the global population at c. 38,000 individuals, although a more recent update now estimates the population at 32,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2015). It is therefore placed in the band 20,000-49,999 individuals.

Trend justification
An analysis of monitoring data collected from around Australia and New Zealand (Studds et al. in prep.) suggests that the species has declined much more rapidly than was previously thought; with an annual rate of decline of 0.058 equating to a loss of 81.7% over three generations. Loss of habitat at critical stopover sites in the Yellow Sea is suspected to be the key threat to this species and given that it is restricted to the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, the declines in the non-breeding population are thought to be representative of the global population.

Local-scale declines have also been reported: the species has been declining steadily in Australia, at a rate of 2.4% annually in Moreton Bay between 1992 and 2008 (Wilson et al. 2011);  c. 5% annually in Victoria between 1980 and 2010 (D. Rogers in litt. 2012); by over 65% in Tasmania since the 1950s (Reid and Park 2003); and by 40% across 49 Australian sites between c. 1983 and c. 2007 (D. Rogers et al. in litt. 2009, Birds Australia in litt. to Garnett et al. 2011). Declines seem equally worrying in North-western Australia (D. Rogers in litt. 2012). Furthermore, the population at Saemangeum (South Korea) has decreased by 32.6% (c. 1,800 birds) between 2006 and 2008 due to the reclamation of tidal flats (Moores 2006, Moores et al. in litt. 2008). Although these sites only represent a proportion of the wintering and stopover populations, threats are widespread and are projected to cause population declines in the future (D. Rogers in litt. 2009). Given that more reclamation is proposed within the Yellow Sea,with widespread threats elsewhere on the flyway, it is assumed that these declines will continue.

Distribution and population

This species breeds in eastern Russia, from the upper reaches of the Nizhnyaya Tunguska river east though the Verkhoyarsk mountains to Kamchatka, and south to Primorye and north-eastern Mongolia (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The Yellow Sea region of
Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea and China is a particularly important stopover site on northward and southward migration. It has been recorded as a passage migrant in Japan, Brunei, Bangladesh, Thailand, Viet Nam, Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, with up to 75% of the population wintering in Australia. The remaining proportion of the population winters in China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand (del Hoyo et al. 1996). The global population has recently been estimated at 32,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2015), including 28,000 in Australia (Bamford et al. 2008). The global population is declining, as indicated by reduced numbers at stopover points in the Republic of Korea and Japan, and a rapid decline in the number of non-breeding individuals wintering in Australia and New Zealand (Amano 2006, Gosbell and Clemens 2006, Moores et al. in litt. 2008, D. Rogers et al. in litt. 2009, Wilson et al. 2011, Studds et al. in prep.). In 2015, the Australian Government listed the species as Critically Endangered under Australia's national environmental law (M. Carey in litt. 2016).


The species breeds on open mossy or transitional bogs, moss-lichen bogs and wet meadows, and on the swampy shores of small lakes; in the non-breeding season it is essentially coastal, occurring at estuaries, mangrove swamps, saltmarshes and intertidal flats, particularly those with extensive seagrass (Zosteraceae) meadows. It often roosts in salt-marshes, behind mangroves, or on sandy beaches (del Hoyo et al. 1996). As well as tidal flats, salt-pans in the Inner Gulf of Thailand provide important roosting and feeding sites for overwintering shorebirds such as N. madagascariensis (Sripanomyom et al. 2011). Its diet on breeding grounds includes insects, such as larvae of beetles and flies, and amphipods. Berries are also consumed during the autumn migration. In non-breeding areas it feeds on marine invertebrates, preferentially taking crabs and small molluscs but also feeding on other crustaceans and polychaete worms (del Hoyo et al. 1996). This migratory wader nests from early May to late June, often in small colonies of 2-3 pairs, with an average clutch size of four eggs. It probably delays maturity longer than most shorebirds, perhaps not breeding until 3-4 years old (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Rogers 2006).


Habitat loss on the Yellow Sea staging grounds is probably the primary threat to the species, with loss of stopover sites thought to be responsible for shorebird population declines on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (Amano et al. 2010, Yang et al. 2011). It is estimated that up to 65% of intertidal habitat in the Yellow Sea has been lost over the past 50 years, with the rate of habitat loss estimated at >1% every year (Murray et al. 2014). This scale of habitat loss is predicted to continue owing to growing populations around the Yellow Sea. It is difficult to ascertain whether declines seen at reclaimed sites such as Saemangeum represent true declines, or whether the birds have simply been displaced (Moores et al. in litt. 2008, D. Rogers in litt. 2009), but the former seems more probable, given the huge scale of habitat loss in the Yellow Sea. Wetland degradation in the Yellow Sea may affect the species where it stages on migration (Bamford et al. 2008, van de Kam et al. 2010). Further threats may include disturbance at the nesting and feeding sites  (Taylor & Bester 1999 in Conservation Advice 2015), direct persecution throughout its range, and a decrease in the availability of food due to pollution at stopover points in South Korea. Furthermore, females probably tend to migrate further south to southern Australian wetlands which are more threatened than those in northern Australia (del Hoyo et al. 1996). 

Conservation actions

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
CMS Appendix I and II. The species was accepted as a Concerted Action species under CMS in November 2014 (Anon. 2014). Population trends are being monitored in Australia as part of BirdLife Australia's shorebirds 2020 programme. The species is included in the Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010 (Garnett et al. 2011) and was recently uplisted as Critically Endangered in Australia. The East Asian - Australasian Flyway Partnership Far Eastern Curlew Task Force is developing an International Single Species Action Plan for the species with Range States, Partners and research organisations within the Flyway (M. Carey in litt. 2016).

Conservation a
nd Research Actions ProposedIdentify key stopover areas and work with governments along the East Asian- Australasian Flyway to prevent destruction/reclamation of important staging sites. Continue to monitor population trends. Restore reclaimed wetland sites. Campaign to stop shorebird hunting in Asian countries. Legally protect it in all range states. Survey the breeding grounds for potential threats. The proposal for listing as a species for Concerted Action under CMS stated that conservation actions were needed to: 1) Protect staging habitat and manage habitat in the Yellow River Delta and remaining habitat at Yala Jiang and other sites in the Yellow Sea; 2) Manage shellfisheries at key sites to benefit the species (Leyrer et al. 2014). The Australian Government's approved Conservation Advice states that the protection of roosting and feeding sites in Australia should be maintained and improved and the requirements of the species should be incorporated into coastal planning. Important sites should also be managed to reduce disturbance when the species is present, and to identify and reduce the threat of invasive species (Conservation Advice 2015).


63 cm. Largest wader in New Zealand. Greyish brown and buff streaked body; very long downcurved bill (19 cm). Similar spp. Distinguished from other similar species by large size and very long bill. Voice Flight call 'croo-lee'.


Text account compilers
North, A., Benstead, P., Ashpole, J, Derhé, M., Symes, A., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Wheatley, H., Calvert, R., Harding, M.

Carey, M., Crockford, N., Amano, H., Rogers, D., Moores, N.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Numenius madagascariensis. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/far-eastern-curlew-numenius-madagascariensis on 25/02/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from https://datazone.birdlife.org on 25/02/2024.