Will you help us to save our threatened birds? The number of birds at severe risk in the UK has nearly doubled. Our birds are struggling to find safe places to nest and enough food to feed their young. They urgently need our help. Find out about the RSPB’s work to save our threatened birds, and discover simple ways you can help them to thrive. Together, we can save our birds.
The curlew is the largest European wading bird, instantly recognisable on winter estuaries and summer moors. Spot the curlew by its long, down-curved bill, brown upperparts, long legs and evocative, bubbling, call.
In the winter, you’ll see curlews feeding in groups on tidal mudflats, saltmarshes and nearby farmland. Whilst some of our birds spend the winter in Ireland and France, we receive an influx of Scandinavian-breeding curlews here, who take advantage of our relatively mild winters. In the spring and summer, curlews migrate to their breeding grounds in upland areas of rough pasture, heather moorland and wetlands.
Curlews breed on a range of habitats, but primarily favour rough grasslands, moorlands and bogs. Agricultural intensification of upland farmland and moorland, including drainage and reseeding, is likely to have been important in causing past declines in breeding populations, as has afforestation of moorlands. Together, these activities are having a huge impact on curlew populations.
Curlews also suffer high levels of predation on nests, with foxes their main predator of eggs, chicks and adult birds. Like many wading birds, curlews lay their eggs in a nest on the ground – known as a ‘scrape’. The parents incubate the eggs for about four weeks, before the young leave the nest and roam around with their parents for a further four weeks, until fledging.
The UK breeding population of curlews is of international importance, with around 30% of the west European population wintering in the UK. And yet, there have been worrying declines in the breeding population throughout much of the UK. In 2021, curlews were added to the Red list on the UK Conservation Status Report. Red is the highest conservation priority, with species on this list needing urgent action. Curlews are struggling, with big declines in breeding populations and ranges. They urgently need our help.
Want to celebrate the sounds of the curlew? In the lead up to World Curlew Day, a group of leading musicians have recorded a stunning new album. Find out more, and download the new single!
What they eat:
Worms, shellfish and shrimps.
- 575-1,000g (Females averaging 1,000g and males averaging 770g)
- UK breeding:
- 66,000 pairs
- UK wintering:
- 140,000 individuals
Also on the Red list, whimbrels is another large wading bird. It has longish legs and a long, curved bill. Whimbrels winter in Africa, returning to the UK and making their way to Scotland in summer to breed. Whimbrels eat insects, snails and slugs on breeding ground, and crabs, shrimps, molluscs and worms on passage.