Identified as being from a group of birds known as Waders, within North America they are generally referred to as Shorebirds. This monotypic species, a long distance migrant, is considered to have an Amber Conservation Status otherwise known as Near Threatened.
Family:Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes
18cm to 23cm
38cm to 41cm
45g to 90g
Slightly larger than the Common Sandpiper, the curlew sandpiper is a medium sized member of the family Scolopacidae, with long legs and a long, slim, slightly downward curving bill. Its summer plumage is eye catching with its chestnut to rufous brown coloured head, neck and underparts. The crown has dark streaks and the mantle and shoulders are a dark brown with mid brown and white edges. Wing coverts are grey, tipped white and the rump is a prominent white, distinctive from most other species of sandpiper. The majority of the upperparts, including the wings are a dark to medium grey with a broad white wing bar formed by the white tipped coverts. The tail is also grey. There is a pale eye ring and the legs, feet and bill are black. Non-breeding adult birds have predominantly plain white underparts with a pale buff coloured breast and greyish back showing buff coloured tips to feathers, resulting in a scaly effect across the bird’s upperparts. The head is a peachy grey brown and white with a white eye stripe extending from the cere rearwards towards the nape. Juvenile birds are similar in colour and marking to non breeding adults but with darker upper parts fringed white and a dark brown cap.
Curlew Sandpiper in summer plumage
The bird can be identified by its soft, rolling chirruping call similar to, ‘chirr-up’ or ‘chirr-ip’.
Curlew Sandpiper call
AUDEVARD Aurélien, XC552777. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/552777.
Curlew Sandpiper in flight
With their long legs and bill the curlew sandpiper is able to wade through water deeper than smaller birds, using its bill to probe through the mud and extract small worms, crustaceans, shrimps and molluscs. In addition, it will also take beetles, insects and larvae.
Curlew Sandpiper in water
The species mainly breeds in the high Arctic, often close to the shores on small islands and across the coastal regions of northern Siberia. It migrates vast distances during the winter to southwest Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Asia and even as far south as Australasia. Adult males begin their migration earlier than females and juveniles will often remain in the breeding regions during their first years of life. Vagrants are occasionally spotted along the Atlantic coast of North America and in the past small colonies have been known to breed in Alaska.
Curlew Sandpiper walking through the water
A social bird, the curlew sandpiper can often be seen along the shores of shallow inland lagoons, coastal plains or wet tundra and salt marshes, in small flocks accompanied by Stints and Dunlins, both the latter being slightly smaller in stature. A passage migrant throughout most of Europe their conspicuous chestnut coloured summer plumage is a useful identification mark as is their bold, plain white rump. Their migration routes through Europe take place in Springtime and from late July through to October.
A pair of Curlew Sandpipers
The nest consists of a simple, shallow scrape, lined with lichen and moss and often constructed on a raised area such as a tussock hump or small mound. One clutch averaging 4 cream coloured eggs, with rufous blotches, is laid annually between May to July and incubated by the female for around twenty one days. Young are able to feed themselves almost immediately after hatching and fledging occurs some two weeks later.
Juvenile Curlew Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper in breeding plumage
The expected lifespan of the curlew sandpiper is up to ten years although this can vary considerably and is affected by the lemming population. During years when there is a low lemming population the birds are prone to predation, particularly by Arctic foxes and skuas. This is believed to occur every three or four years across northern Siberia.
A long-legged wader, closely related to the curlew, the Eurasian whimbrel, has small breeding populations established on the Scottish islands of Shetland and Orkney. Migrating whimbrels may be spotted along Britain’s coastlines as they undertake long-distance migration flights between Arctic tundra breeding grounds and wintering territories in Africa.
Spotted redshanks have a distinctive black spotted summer plumage that UK residents are unlikely to see in birds on British shores, as the species is only a rare winter visitor or spotted in migration passage. Several hundred spotted redshanks make brief stopovers on British coastal wetlands each year, en-route to and from breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle.
Highly camouflaged and elusive, the jack snipe is a small wading bird that spends winters on mudflats and freshwater wetlands across Britain. Smaller and less common than the UK’s other native snipe, the common snipe, jack snipes are harder to spot due to their tendency to crouch low and remain hidden among reeds.
Green sandpipers are stocky shorebirds similar to the common sandpiper. They spend winters at inland freshwater wetlands in southern Europe and northern and central Africa after raising their young in swampy forests and wet woodland landscapes across northern Europe.
The Dunlin is a small wading bird from the sandpiper family Scolopacidae. Dunlins breed across North America and northern Europe, and Asia and are one of the most widely distributed wading birds, with ten subspecies.
The largest European wading bird, the Eurasian curlew is easy to identify with its elongated bow-shaped bill and spindly legs. In winter groups of curlews known as ‘curfews’ forage together in coastal wetlands, and up to 66,000 pairs breed in the UK and are resident all year round.
Belonging to a group of birds generally called waders or shorebirds, the common sandpiper prefers freshwater habitats as opposed to saltwater locations.
An impressive, proud looking wader with particularly fine summer plumage which migrates south from its northern breeding grounds from July to October, returning for the summer from late February through April.
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