Curlew Sandpiper

Calidris ferruginea

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.

Curlew Sandpiper

Length:

18cm to 23cm

Wingspan:

38cm to 41cm

Weight:

45g to 90g

What does a Curlew Sandpiper look like?

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

Curlew Sandpiper in summer plumage

What does a Curlew Sandpiper sound like?

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

Curlew Sandpiper in flight

What does a Curlew Sandpiper eat?

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

Curlew Sandpiper in water

Distribution

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

Curlew Sandpiper walking through the water

Signs and Spotting tips

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

A pair of Curlew Sandpipers

Breeding

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

Juvenile Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew sandpiper breeding plumage

Curlew Sandpiper in breeding plumage

How long do Curlew Sandpipers live for?

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.

Similar birds to a Curlew Sandpiper

Other birds in the Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes family