The Eastern Curlew is the largest wader in the world and migrates between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere summers. In New Zealand, they are an annual migrant in small numbers. In the 1980s and 90s, 20-50 birds visited New Zealand each year, whereas 6000 visited Australia. Numbers have declined in Australia and New Zealand since the 1960s.

With its long legs it stands head and shoulders above other waders and so is easily distinguished. It also has a very distinctive long, curved beak up to 18 cm in length. This is equivalent to 5 times the length of its head and allows it to feed on worms and small crabs that live buried deep in the wet sand or mudflats.

The Eastern Curlew breeds in Far Eastern Russia, inland on the boggy plains of the upper reaches of the Amur River and on the Kamchatka Peninsula. They nest on the ground, in amongst reed grass thickets or peat marshes. The Eastern Curlew generally lay 4 eggs that are olive green in colour with black and brown speckles. During courtship, the male birds flutter their wings and leap up to 10-15 metres off the ground, calling as they do so. During the breeding season they feed mainly on insects such as the soft fleshy larvae of beetles and soldier flies, as well as berries, a diet different from the worms and molluscs they eat in coastal wetlands.

Eastern curlew chicks attempt their first migration when they are only six to eight weeks old, after the adult birds have already departed. These chicks inherit from their parents an instinctive sense of distance and direction required to navigate their migratory paths.

During migration the Eastern Curlew will travel up to 20,000 kms on the round trip. Each leg of the journey might be as much as 5-6,000 kms. Normally weighing 700 to 900 grams, the Eastern Curlew nearly doubles it's weight just before migration.

For many Aboriginal groups across Australia the Eastern Curlew is a bird of great significance, a messenger. Its plaintive cry is a warning to be heeded.

The Far Eastern Curlew Satellite Project was initiated after discussions held at the 8th Conference of the Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Protection Agreement held in Queensland, Australia, in 1995. Far Eastern Curlew numbers are currently in decline. Consequently, Japan, Russia, China and Australia are conducting a joint survey to determine the migration route and resting sites for this species. The purpose of the survey is to gather basic data to open the way for the establishment of a structure of international cooperative protection for the curlew and its wetland habitat. The project is funded by the Governments of Australia and Japan and the Japanese telecommunications company NTT is providing additional support for the project. This work is being undertaken by the Wild Bird Society of Japan and the Queensland Wader Study Group with support from the Queensland Department of Environment.

Narena Olliver, Greytown, 2009

Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

far eastern curlew, Numenius rufescens, Australian curlew.

Description:  — 

Native bird

63 cm., 900 g., distinctive downward curved bill, body greyish brown streaked.

Where to find:  — 

Found in small numbers on estuaries thoughout New Zealand.

Poetry:  — 

O curlew, cry no more in the air,
Or only to the water in the West;
Because your crying brings to my mind
passion-dimmed eyes and long heavy hair
That was shaken out over my breast:
There is enough evil in the crying of wind.

He Reproves The Curlew
— William Butler Yeats

Illustration description: — 


Gould, John, Birds of Asia, 1850-1883.

Albin, Eleazar, Natural History of Birds, 1735-50.

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Page date & version: — 


Friday, 26 August, 2016; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.