Curlew sandpipers are the seventh most numerous Arctic wader to visit New Zealand with around 150 arriving each summer and around 50 over wintering.

The curlew sandpiper breeds in the high Arctic, in central Siberia between the Yenesei and Kolyma rivers. They winter in Africa, southern Asia and Australasia. They put on breeding colours before leaving for breeding grounds at the end of winter. The clutch of 3–4 eggs are laid in ground scrape in the tundra. Curlew Sandpipers nest in high-arctic coastal tundra on elevated areas of rough grass next to bogs and pools. Males usually return to the same nesting site. The male Curlew Sandpiper performs an aerial display during courtship, declaring his territory with a song flight and slow wingbeats and glides. Only females appear to incubate while the males leave early. Males generally travel further south than females.

According to Oliver, the Curlew sandpiper associates with wrybills on sand and mud flats of the Firth of Thames and with banded dotterel on the mud flats of Lake Ellesmere which is a large lagoon near the coast.

The Curlew sandpiper forages in soft mud on marshes and the coast, mainly picking up food by sight. It mostly eats insects and other small invertebrates. When breeding, they eat mainly insects, especially flies and beetles. They forage on wet, soft mud by pecking and probing in an incessant "stitching" motion. They often keep this up for hours, foraging frantically as the tide retreats. They feed both during the day and at night, whenever the tidal situation best suits their hunting style.

Most of the Arctic waders travel to and from New Zealand via the western edge of the Pacific, on the East Asian–Australasian Flyway, making coastal stopovers to rest and feed along the way. The staging sites are vital for the birds to be able to continue their journeys and return home to breed again. Pressure from expanding human populations at many sites has led to a steady deterioration of the birds’ habitat. A combination of housing and industrial development, pollution, land reclamation on mudflats, changes to water flows and increased risk from predators at these stopping points has meant that fewer birds can feed and rest before the next stage of the journey. The result has been a decline in bird populations.

Several international organisations have attempted to protect some waders’ habitats along the course of flyways such as the East Asian–Australasian Flyway. So far, six New Zealand sites were included in the Ramsar Convention as Wetlands of International Importance: the Firth of Thames, Kopuatai Peat Dome, Whangamarino, Manawatu Estuary, Farewell Spit, and Waituna Lagoon.

curlew sandpiper
Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

Erolia ferruginea, curlew stint

Description:  — 

Native bird

19 cm., 60 g., slim sandpiper with slender, long down curved bill, long black legs, narrow white wing stripe, and whire upper tail coverts, upper surface greyer than banded dotterel and sharp-tailed sandpiper.

Where to find:  — 

Regular summer visitor to NZ, tidals flats, brackish pools, and margins of coastal lakes, mainly at Firth of Thames, Lake Ellesmere, Awarua Bay.

Youtube video  — 

Curlew sandpiper

Poetry:  — 


The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

–Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

— Elizabeth Bishop

Illustration description: — 


Gould, John, Birds of Great Britain, 1862-73.

Gould, John, The Birds of Australia, 1848.

Reference(s): — 


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

Readers Digest Complete Book of NZ Birds, 1985.

Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.

Page date & version: — 


Wednesday, 4 June 2014; ver2009v1


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