Eastern Curlew

Did you know?

Eastern Curlews have very long legs, allowing them to wade in boggy areas and moorland in their breeding region, where other shorter-legged waders are unable to go.

In flight and on the ground, a loud sad-sounding 'cuuuur-lee', rising in pitch.
Facts and Figures
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Breeding season: 
June to July
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Basic Information
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What does it look like?

The Eastern Curlew is the largest wader that visits Australia, with a very long down-curved bill. The female's bill is usually longer than the male's and averages 185 mm in length. It is a bulky, dark-streaked brown wader, with a long neck and legs. When flying, the barred flight feathers are visible, lighter under the wings and dark above. They are wary birds, quick to take flight. Their wing beats are slow and deliberate, unlike the rapid beats of the Whimbrel. Other names are Curlew and Australian or Sea Curlew.

Similar species: 

The Eastern Curlew is the largest curlew, with a much longer bill and legs than the similar Whimbrel, Numensius phaeopus. The call of the Eastern Curlew is distinctive and the long bill is obvious in flight.

Where does it live?

The Eastern Curlew is widespread in coastal regions in the north-east and south of Australia, including Tasmania, and scattered in other coastal areas. It is rarely seen inland. It breeds in Russia and north-eastern China. On passage, they are commonly seen in Japan, Korea and Borneo. Small numbers visit New Zealand.


The Eastern Curlew is found on intertidal mudflats and sandflats, often with beds of seagrass, on sheltered coasts, especially estuaries, mangrove swamps, bays, harbours and lagoons.

Seasonal movements: 

The Eastern Curlew is a migratory species, moving south by day and night, usually along coastlines, leaving breeding areas from mid-July to late September. They arrive in north-western and eastern Australia mainly in August. Large numbers appear on the east coast from September to November. Most leave again from late February to March.

What does it do?

The Eastern Curlew eats mainly small crabs and molluscs. Foraging by day and night, it is slow and deliberate, stalking slowly on sandy and muddy flats, picking from the surface or probing deep with its long bill.


Eastern Curlews breed in the northern hemisphere on swampy moors and boggy marshes. Both sexes have similar plumage, with the males using their haunting calls and display flights to attract a mate and defend their territory. The nest is a shallow depression lined with grass.

Living with us

Eastern Curlews may be declining in the south east of Australia. Threats on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (the migration route to Australia) include economic and social pressures such as wetland destruction and change, pollution and hunting.

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