Australian Bush Birds
Eastern Curlew  -  Numenius madagascariensis
Eastern Curlew
Eastern Curlew on tidal sand flats at Urunga on the New South Wales coast. The long, down-turned, bill is prominent.
Eastern Curlew
Eastern Curlew head and long, curved, bill. The white eye ring can be readily seen as can the pink in the lower mandible closer to the head.
Eastern Curlew - page 2
The Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) is a medium to large (580 to 620 millimetres), long-beaked bird. This is a large wader with a long neck, long legs, and a long bill that curves downwards. The wingspan is 110 centimetres and adult birds weigh 900 grams on average.

map map In a non-breeding bird upper parts are pale buff or rufous with dark centres to feathers on back and shoulders giving a streaked appearance. Feathers on the head and neck are more finely streaked. Under parts are paler but still streaked becoming less so lower on the rear abdomen which is mostly pale. Tail is greyish-brown with narrow dark banding. Bill is long and down turned, mostly black with pink lower mandible, particularly at the inner end. Wings are whitish below, but look darker due to fine dark barring. Legs are dull blue-grey. Eyes are brown with a prominent white eye ring tapering to a point at the back. Males and females are similar in appearance, females are slightly larger and have a longer bill.

Immature birds are similar to non-breeding adults but feathers on upper parts have a pale buff edge giving a paler appearance than adult birds.

Breeding adults are also similar to non-breeding adults but upper feather have a rufous colouring on the edges giving a sharper and browner look to the bird. The Eastern Curlew is not known to breed in Australia

There are no subspecies.

Eastern Curlew
Eastern Curlew feeding with the bill pushed fully into the sand.
In Australia, curlews inhabit large mudflats, estuaries, coastal lagoons and inlets; they can be found on sandy beaches. Reported from scattered locations right around the Australian coastline, but rarely reported inland. Locally common when it does occur. Uses the long bill to probe sand and mud for small crabs, mollusca, beetle larvae, flies, worms, millipedes, snails and spiders picking them from the surface or from deeper. Forages by day and night.

Eastern Curlews migrate regularly between breeding ground in north-east China, Kamchatka, Siberia and Alaska and the Australian coastline, especially the north, east and south-east coasts. They fly north from Australia, leaving in March and April returning during August and September. A large proportion of curlews (estimated at 30%) do not migrate, many of these are immature birds not yet developed enough to breed and remain in Australia during the breeding season.

Many Eastern Curlews flying from Australia to north Asia visit the Yellow River estuary between Korea and Japan for enroute feeding. At the breeding ground in May and June pairs establish a nest formed as a scrape on a mound and lay usually four eggs. Incubation takes about 27 to 29 days.

Eastern Curlew - page 3
Young can walk and feed themselves almost a soon as they hatch but still need parental attention. As soon as the young are old enough to feed themselves and have sufficient down/feathers to keep warm the adults leave them and set off on the flight to Australia.

Young Curlews follow their parents some weeks later but take longer to complete the journey; they instinctively know where to stop for food but, lacking prior knowledge of exactly where the food is to be found, take longer to finish feeding before continuing their flight so take longer to reach Australia. They arrive a month or two after the adults.

Juvenile Curlews take a long time to mature. They remain in non-breeding areas for at least two years before they are ready to join other adults on migration to the breeding grounds.

Similar Species: Whimbrel. The Whimbrel is slightly smaller with a shorter, downcurved bill. The Whimbrel has distinctive brown and white lines on its head.

Other names include; Far Eastern Curlew, Australian Curlew, Sea Curlew, Curlew