The Eurasian Curlew is our familiar UK species, simply known as the curlew. It is Europe’s largest shorebird, 50-60 cm long, with a wingspan of up to a metre. Their plumage is a streaked grey-brown, uniform other than a white wedge shape on the rump, which becomes visible when they fly. Their most prominent feature is their long, curved beak, which they use to pick out items of food like worms and shellfish from the mud or silt. The resemblance of this bill to the shape of crescent moon gives the genus its scientific name Numenius, derived from the ancient Greek for new moon. If you see one, you are likely also to hear its hauntingly beautiful, rippling call.
Curlews are found across Europe and parts of Asia and Africa, but the UK is a stronghold for them, with about a quarter of the world breeding population. They are generally migratory, but many are resident in the UK all year round. They lay their eggs in a scrape on the ground in wet grassland and moorland. In winter, when they are not breeding, they tend to stay nearer the coast, roaming and foraging across shallow water and mudflats.
Although the global population is still fairly large, significant and rapid declines in their numbers have led to them being classified as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and they are on the UK’s Red List for species of conservation concern. Given the collapse of Curlew numbers in Ireland and the disappearance of two other species of Curlew in the last 50 years this decline is cause for serious alarm. Their decline is down to a number of factors including loss of suitable habitat from drainage of wetlands and changing agricultural practices, increased predation, and climate change.