Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)
Fishing Pier, Goose Island State Park, Texas
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Scolopacidae
Genus: Numenius
Brisson, 1760

N. phaeopus
N. tenuirostris
N. arquata
N. americanus
N. madagascariensis
N. minutus
N. borealis
N. tahitiensis


Palnumenius Miller, 1942

The curlews /ˈkɜrljz/, genus Numenius, are a group of eight species of birds, characterised by long, slender, downcurved bills and mottled brown plumage. They are one of the most ancient lineages of scolopacid waders, together with the godwits which look similar but have straight bills.[1] In Europe "curlew" usually refers to one species, the Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata.

Curlews feed on mud or very soft ground, searching for worms and other invertebrates with their long bills. They will also take crabs and similar items.

Curlews enjoy a world-wide distribution. Most species show strong migratory habits and consequently one or more species can be encountered at different times of the year in Europe, the British Isles, Iberia, Iceland, Africa, Southeast Asia, Siberia, North America, South America and Australasia.

The distribution of curlews has altered considerably in the past hundred years as a result of changing agricultural practices. Reclamation and drainage of marshy fields and moorland, and afforestation of the latter, have led to local decreases, while conversion of forest to grassland in some parts of Scandinavia has led to increases there.[2][clarification needed]

The stone-curlews are not true curlews (family Scolopacidae) but members of the family Burhinidae, which is in the same order Charadriiformes, but only distantly related within that.

Species in taxonomic order

The Late Eocene (Montmartre Formation, some 35 mya) fossil Limosa gypsorum of France was originally placed in Numenius and may in fact belong there.[3] Apart from that, a Late Pleistocene curlew from San Josecito Cave, Mexico has been described. This fossil was initially placed in a distinct genus, Palnumenius, but was actually a chronospecies or paleosubspecies related to the Long-billed Curlew.[4]

The Upland Sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) is an odd bird which is the closest relative of the curlews.[1] It is distinguished from them by its yellow legs, long tail, and shorter, less curved bill.


  1. ^ a b Thomas, Gavin H.; Wills, Matthew A. & Székely, Tamás (2004): A supertree approach to shorebird phylogeny. BMC Evol. Biol. 4: 28. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-4-28 PDF fulltext Supplementary Material
  2. ^ Encyclopedia of the Animal World (1977): Vol.6: 518-519. Bay Books, Sydney.
  3. ^ Olson, Storrs L. (1985): Section X.D.2.b. Scolopacidae. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 174-175. Academic Press, New York.
  4. ^ Arroyo-Cabrales, Joaquín & Johnson, Eileen (2003): Catálogo de los ejemplares tipo procedentes de la Cueva de San Josecito, Nuevo León, México. Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Geológicas 20(1): 79-93. [Spanish with English abstract] PDF fulltext

Further reading

  • Bodsworth, Fred (1987). Last of the Curlews. ISBN 0396091873.  (originally published in 1954)

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Curlew — Cur lew (k[^u]r l[=u]), n. [F. courlieu, corlieu, courlis; perh. of imitative origin, but cf. OF. corlieus courier; L. currere to run + levis light.] (Zo[ o]l.) A wading bird of the genus {Numenius}, remarkable for its long, slender, curved bill …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Curlew — ist der Name mehrerer Orte in den Vereinigten Staaten: Curlew (Florida) Curlew (Iowa) Curlew (Kalifornien) Curlew (Kentucky) Curlew (Washington) Curlew Junction (Utah) Diese Seite ist eine Begriffsklärung zur Unterscheidung mehrere …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Curlew — Curlew, IA U.S. city in Iowa Population (2000): 62 Housing Units (2000): 36 Land area (2000): 0.758220 sq. miles (1.963780 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 0.758220 sq. miles (1.963780 sq. km)… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Curlew, IA — U.S. city in Iowa Population (2000): 62 Housing Units (2000): 36 Land area (2000): 0.758220 sq. miles (1.963780 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.000000 sq. miles (0.000000 sq. km) Total area (2000): 0.758220 sq. miles (1.963780 sq. km) FIPS code:… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • curlew — [kʉr′lo͞o΄, kʉrl′yo͞o΄] n. pl. curlews or curlew [ME curleu < OFr corlieu, of echoic orig., but infl. by assoc. with corlieu, messenger, courier] any of a genus (Numenius, family Scolopacidae) of large, brownish shorebirds with long legs and a …   English World dictionary

  • curlew — (n.) mid 14c., from O.Fr. courlieu (13c., Mod.Fr. courlis), said to be imitative of the bird s cry but apparently assimilated with corliu runner, messenger, from corre to run (see CURRENT (Cf. current) (adj.)). The bird is a good runner …   Etymology dictionary

  • curlew — ► NOUN (pl. same or curlews) ▪ a large wading bird with a long downcurved bill and brown streaked plumage. ORIGIN Old French courlieu, derived from the sound of the bird s call …   English terms dictionary

  • curlew — /kerr looh/, n. 1. any of several shorebirds of the genus Numenius, having a long, slender, downcurved bill, as the common N. arquata, of Europe. 2. any of various similar birds. [1300 50; ME < AF curleu, c. MF corleu; perh. imit.] * * * Any of… …   Universalium

  • curlew — UK [ˈkɜː(r)ljuː] / US [ˈkɜrˌlu] noun [countable] Word forms curlew : singular curlew plural curlews a brown bird that lives near water and has long legs and a long thin curved beak …   English dictionary

  • curlew — noun (plural curlews or curlew) Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo French curleu, of imitative origin Date: 14th century any of various largely brownish chiefly migratory birds (especially genus Numenius) …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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