The Curlews are the Numenius genus of birds, this
genus being part of the Scolopacidae family (Scolopacidae being waders
The Curlew is characterized by a long, narrow,
downwardly curved bill which is between 12 ½ and 18 centimeters
in length. These birds have a predominantly brown plumage which can
best be described as patterned or streaked between dark shades of brown
and very light shading of almost white colour. The underparts are
of a light coloration. The plumage does not have any large seasonal
changes in appearance.
Curlews feed mainly on insects, worms, crustaceans
and other shore creatures, which they search for with their long bill in
swampy soils. As well as seashores, they will find their food in
flat muddy areas and around river mouths. To discover the creatures
that make up their food the curlew will diligently probe the sand or mud,
but will also keep an eye out for any molloscs or crustaceans which may
be visible on the sand's or mud's surface.
They will also enjoy eating berries. On their long
migrations they show a high flexibility with the types of food they will
consume, including insects in their diet.
As soon as Curlew chicks are able to walk, they
accompany their parents toward the waters where the birds feed.
There are 8 different species of Curlew:
The Long-billed Curlew (Numenius
americanus) breeds in the prairies of North America and migrates in the
winter to the south coast of the USA, Mexico and occasionally to southern
Central America. Populations decreased as a result of hunting around
the beginning of the 20th Century and this bird is still in quite a precaroius
The Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) is common
in Europe and Asia. This is a large bird whose length is around 50
to 58 cemtimetres, with a wingspan of 1 metre.
The Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis) was known
breed in the Canadian Tundra. This bird has possibly already become
extinct. Last confirmed evidence of the Eskimo Curlew was a specimen in
1963 on Barbados. Since then there have only been unconfirmed observations.
The species was one of the most numerous birds of North America in
the 19th Century but numbers were drastically reduced by hunting.
The Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis)
breeds in east Siberia and Mongolia, migrates in the winter to Southeast
Asia and Australia. This bird is sometimes known by the slightly
shorter name of "Eastern Curlew".
The Little Curlew (Numenius minutus) is a small
curlew who breeds in Sibera and winters in North Australia.
The Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) breeds in
the subarctic regions of Europe, North America and Asia, and winters in
Africa, South America and south Asia. In some areas of the UK the
Whimbrel has also been known as "Jack Curlew" which is apparently as a
result of its relatively tiny size. It is also known as "Titterel"
from the sound of one of its calls, and "May Fowl" which is due to the
fact that it usually arrives in the UK in May.
The Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius
tahitiensis) breeds in western Alaska and Winters in the islands
of the Pacific. In this bird the shaft of most of the feathers clothing
its legs is produced into a long glistening bristle.
- The Slender-billed Curlew
in Siberia and winters in the Mediterranean area. In the 19th Century it
was a very common species but numbers have dramatically decreased as a
result of hunting and also the destruction of the wetlands in their wintering
areas. As at the time of writing this page in 2006, the Slender-billed
curlew is currently believed to be at high risk of becoming extinct.
The Stone Curlew, on the other hand, is a bird
which forms an entirely different family than the true curlews (detailed
above), and the two groups of birds should not be confused. The Stone Curlew can be differentiated from the true curlews from the straight bill of the stone Curlew. Whereas
the curlews (Numenius) are a genus within the Scolopacidae family,
the Stone Curlews form the Burhinidae family.