Curlew Numenius arquata

Curlew are very large, tall waders, about the same size as a female pheasant. Curlew are mottled brown and grey with long, bluish legs and a long, down-curved bill that is pink underneath. It can be distinguished from the smaller whimbrel by the longer bill and plain head pattern. When they fly, curlew have a white wedge on the rump.


The haunting sound of the curlew’s display call (‘Cur-lee’) is unmistakeable and can be heard from February through to July on its breeding grounds: wet grasslands, farmland, heath and moorlands. From July onwards coastal numbers start to build up and peak in January.


  • Length: 50-60cm
  • Wingspan: 90cm
  • Weight: 770-1,000g
  • Average Lifespan: 5 years


Classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. Classified in the UK as an Amber List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review and as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.


A breeding bird of wet grasslands and moorlands in northern England, Wales and Scotland. Common on migration at wetlands throughout the country. Winters around the coast.

When to see

January – December


  • An old Scottish name for the curlew is ‘whaup’ or ‘great whaup’. Its evocative call has been immortalised in a poem, The Seafarer, dating back to 1,000 AD although it may be even older: “I take my gladness in the… sound of the curlew instead of the laughter of men”.
  • In the past, people in Britain have eaten curlews – in Cornwall they were served in pies! They could still be bought in UK butchers up until 1942.

Common name


Species name

Numenius arquata

IUCN Red List status

Near threatened

When to see in Scotland

January – December

Where to see in Scotland

Scottish Wildlife Trust reserves such as Montrose Basin.

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