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.