Family Sandpipers, Snipes, Phalaropes (Scolopacidae)

Endangered

Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis)

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Taxonomy

French: Courlis de Sibérie German: Isabellbrachvogel Spanish: Zarapito siberiano
Other common names: Eastern Curlew
Taxonomy:

Scolopax madagascariensis

Linnaeus

, 1766,

Madagascar; error = Macassar, Sulawesi

.

Monotypic.

Distribution:

E Siberia, from upper reaches of R Nizhnyaya Tunguska E through Verkhoyansk Mts to Kamchatka, and S to NE Mongolia, extreme NE China (NE Heilongjiang) and Ussuriland. Winters in Japan, E China and Taiwan S to Indonesia and New Guinea, but most migrate to Australia and a few reach New Zealand. Never recorded in Madagascar.

Descriptive notes

53–66 cm; 390–1350 g, male averaging 110 g lighter than female; wingspan 97–110 cm. Largest curlew with very long, heavy bill; female has longest bill of any wader (184 mm). Plain head pattern; upperparts have dark feather centres and buff notches and fringes; breast and flanks finely streaked; underwing densely barred brown. Differs from N. arquata in dark rump, back and underwing; longer, heavier bill. Female averages larger, especially with longer bill. Non-breeding adult lacks rufous tinge on upperparts. Juvenile has more extensive whitish edging on upperparts when plumage fresh; streaking on underparts finer; shorter bill#R.

Drawing by Francesc Jutglar
Descriptive notes:

53–66 cm; 390–1350 g, male averaging 110 g lighter than female; wingspan 97–110 cm. Largest curlew with very long, heavy bill; female has longest bill of any wader (184 mm). Plain head pattern; upperparts have dark feather centres and buff notches and fringes; breast and flanks finely streaked; underwing densely barred brown. Differs from N. arquata in dark rump, back and underwing; longer, heavier bill. Female averages larger, especially with longer bill. Non-breeding adult lacks rufous tinge on upperparts. Juvenile has more extensive whitish edging on upperparts when plumage fresh; streaking on underparts finer; shorter bill#R.

Drawing by Juan M. Varela
Descriptive notes:

53–66 cm; 390–1350 g, male averaging 110 g lighter than female; wingspan 97–110 cm. Largest curlew with very long, heavy bill; female has longest bill of any wader (184 mm). Plain head pattern; upperparts have dark feather centres and buff notches and fringes; breast and flanks finely streaked; underwing densely barred brown. Differs from N. arquata in dark rump, back and underwing; longer, heavier bill. Female averages larger, especially with longer bill. Non-breeding adult lacks rufous tinge on upperparts. Juvenile has more extensive whitish edging on upperparts when plumage fresh; streaking on underparts finer; shorter bill#R.

Voice

Generally considered to be harsher and more robust than those of nominate N. arquata, with most typical being a powerful “coour-leee”, overall deeper than in N. arquata and second syllable distinctly longer, given in series that may last several seconds; also gives a partridge-like “kraaar-it”, which sounds clipped because second note it much shorter than first; in alarm a two-noted “wheeuh”, with first guttural-sounding and second dropping sharply; and finally a series of churring-like notes “whr’r’r’rit”, which are shorter, lower and hoarser than N. arquata#R.

Habitat

Breeds in open mossy or transitional bogs, moss-lichen bogs and wet meadows, and on swampy shores of small lakes, but typically prefers dry sites over wet ones for nesting, although large sphagnum bogs, especially those with mixed vegetation, are favoured for feeding at this season#R. In non-breeding season essentially coastal, occurring at estuaries, mangrove swamps, saltmarshes, intertidal mudflats or sandflats, particularly those with extensive seagrass (Zosteraceae) meadows; sometimes on beaches; very rarely inland near large wetlands. Often roosts in saltmarshes behind mangroves, or on sandy beaches.

Food and feeding

Diet on breeding grounds includes insects, such as larvae of beetles and flies, and amphipods. During autumn migration berries also consumed. In non-breeding areas, marine invertebrates, mainly crabs and small molluscs, but also other crustaceans and polychaete worms; in E Australia, most common prey are soldier crab (Mictyris longicarpus), the sentinel crab (Macrophthalmus crassipes) and Australian ghost shrimp (Trypaea australiensis), with the two crabs most frequently taken in Nov/Dec and the soldier crab and ghost-shrimp immediately prior to spring migration#R; and in S Australia tasselled crab (Pilumnus fissifrons) is commonest prey, followed by Australian ghost shrimp, two-spined crab (Litocheira bispinosa) and the sentinel crab (Tasmanoplax latifrons)#R. Probes bill down burrows, or pecks from surface, detecting prey by sight or touch; prefers soft-sediment intertidal mudflats. Feeding action slow and deliberate. Manipulates large prey, swallowing it piece by piece; sometimes washes prey. Sexual differences in length of bill can lead to corresponding differences in diet and microhabitat: females feed solitarily on burrow-living shrimps and defend feeding territory (typically 0·22–0·87 ha)#R; males feed in loose flocks (up to 100s) on crabs; in addition, females use more sandy areas and males muddy areas#R. Diurnal and nocturnal.

Breeding

Poorly known. Nests early May to late Jun. Often in small colonies of 2–6 pairs#R, with densities of up to 5·6 individuals/km²#R. Site fidelity does not appear especially strong, although same area may be used for up to eight years#R. Nest lined with dry grass and twigs, on small mound in swampy ground, often close to areas with wild berries growing. Usually four eggs (range 2–4), size 66·2–74·5 mm × 42·2–49·6 mm#R; incubation at least 16 days#R; fledging period at least four weeks. Has been suggested that adults desert their young prior to fledging#R. Egg predators include foxes (Vulpes vulpes), badgers (Meles meles) and raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides), but prescribed fires also destroy nests, while chick loss is mainly due to adverse weather conditions; in one study, nesting success (n = 22 nests) averaged 0·69 ± 0·01 or 0·2 ± 0·07 fledglings per nesting pair#R. Probably delays maturity longer than most shorebirds, perhaps not breeding until 3–4 years old.

Movements

Long-distance migrant; moves, generally in small flocks, along coasts of Kuril Is, Sakhalin, Ussuriland, Korea, Japan, parts of Philippines, E Sumatra and Borneo; less common in transit in E China (where passage recorded in Hebei at least late Aug to early Nov)#R, Hong Kong, Wallacea and New Guinea (including several of the offshore islands), and is a distinctly rare (and probably decreasing) migrant to Melanesia (Bismarcks, Solomons, New Caledonia and possibly Vanuatu)#R and Micronesia (Palau, Yap, Guam, Mariana Is, Chuuk)#R#R. Fewer birds appear in continental Asia in autumn than in spring, vice versa in Japan; except on Thai-Malay Peninsula, species is generally very rare in mainland SE Asia#R. NW & E Australia reached as early as Jun, but mainly in late Aug, followed by gradual southward movement; most birds reach S Australia in Nov. Northbound migration up coast of E Australia occurs mainly Feb–Apr, but birds from SE Australia seem to bypass E coast sites. More females seem to migrate further S. Recent satellite-tracking work has revealed that birds depart Queensland (Australia) via an initial non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean towards China and Korea, followed by shorter ‘hops’, over a period of > 1 month, to reach NE Russia; the return journey also involves one major flight, this time S from Yellow Sea, while in spring many birds that set off from Australia returned to the non-breeding grounds over periods of up to several months, without ever reaching the breeding grounds#R. Otherwise, non-breeders spend boreal summer in N & NW Australia and Victoria, plus tiny numbers in New Zealand, but in recent years comparatively large numbers (> 1700) have been reported at this season at Yancheng National Nature Reserve, China#R, with small numbers also seen in Inner Mongolia#R; possibly do so until late in their third year. Exceptional vagrant to Bangladesh (Nov 1988)#R, Diego Garcia I (Nov 2007)#R and North America (mainly spring and summer records from Aleutians, even more rarely on Pribilofs, with single Sept records from British Columbia and Hawaii)#R. Also reported NE Afghanistan#R.

Status and conservation

ENDANGERED. Formerly considered Near Threatened. Listed as Critically Endangered in Australia given evidence that species has perhaps declined by c. 80% in last 30 years there#R, with losses of 2·4% annually at Moreton Bay in 1992–2008, c. 5% annually in Victoria in 1980–2010, by > 65% in Tasmania since 1950s#R, and by 40% across 49 Australian sites in c. 1983–2007. During last two decades, world population variously estimated to number 29,000–38,000 individuals, with Australia holding up to 27,000 birds in boreal winter (1500 of them in N Western Australia#R and up to 4600 at Moreton Bay, SE Queensland#R, with other major sites including Hervey Bay, Queensland, and Corner Inlet and Western Port Bay, Victoria)#R. Minimum estimates in late 1990s of 25,000 and 10,300 passing through Chinese and Korean portions of Yellow Sea, respectively#R, but population at Saemangeum (South Korea) decreased by c. 33% (c. 1800 birds) between 2006 and 2008 due to reclamation of tidal flats and up to 65% of intertidal habitat in Yellow Sea has been lost over last half-century, with > 1% of remaining habitat being lost per year to reclamation for agriculture, aquaculture, and other development#R. Loss of intertidal stopover habitats in Yellow Sea region is thought to be driving declines in populations of shorebirds using East Asian–Australasian Flyway#R#R#R. In Philippines, 457 birds counted in 1992, and 75 in 1993; up to c. 370 recorded in Sumatra. Small numbers apparently wintering in China in recent years, with 64 birds counted in 1992 and ten in 1993. Has declined mainly through loss of habitat and disturbance, and possibly persecution (Tasmania) and decrease of available food through pollution (South Korea); hunting may also have been significant at breeding grounds, on migration and in S Australia. Declines also documented on breeding grounds, with suitable habitat being lost to agricultural expansion and spring grass fires#R. Easily disturbed at feeding and roosting sites. Potential threat may be that females probably tend to migrate further S, to S Australian wetlands, which are more at threat than those in N Australia. Over last 30–60 years, numbers have reduced significantly in some areas of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand (where fewer than 50 wintered between 1983 and 1994)#R; this may be due to population decline or to change in non-breeding range. In Western Port Bay, SC Victoria, dramatic loss of seagrasses on intertidal mudflats caused substantial decline in mid 1970s, but population now seems to be recovering.

Recommended citation

Van Gils, J., Wiersma, P. & Kirwan, G.M. (2017). Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/53898 on 28 July 2017).