Species Details

Details of Curlew Sandpiper will be displayed below

Curlew Sandpiper   

Common Name: Curlew Sandpiper
Scientific Name: Calidris ferruginea
Local Name: Bondana Ilolhi
Dhivehi Name: ބޮނޑަނަ އިލޮޅި
Animalia  (Kingdom)
Chordata  (Plylum)
Aves  (Class)
Scolopacidae  (Family)
Calidris   (Genus)

Curlew Sandpiper's description

The Curlew Sandpiper is a small, slim sandpiper 18–23 cm long and weighing 57 g, with a wingspan of 38–41 cm. The legs and neck are long. The bill is also long, and is decurved with a slender tip. The bill is black, sometimes with a brown or green tinge at the base. The head is small and round, and the iris is dark brown. The legs and feet are black or black-grey. When at rest, the wing-tips project beyond the tip of the tail. The sexes are similar, but females have a slightly larger and longer bill and a slightly paler underbelly in breeding plumage.

In breeding plumage, the head, neck and underbody to rear belly are a rich chestnut-red with narrow black bars on the belly and flanks. There are black streaks on the crown, a dusky loral stripe, and white around the base of the bill. The head, neck and underbody have a pale-streaked appearance due to white tips on the feathers. The feathers on the mantle and scapulars are black with large chestnut spots and grayish-white tips. The back and upper rump are dark brown, with a prominent square white patch across the lower rump and uppertail-covert.

The non-breeding plumage is similar to the breeding plumage. Differences are that the cap, ear-coverts, hindneck and sides of neck are pale brownish-grey with fine dark streaks, grading to off-white on the lower face, with white on the chin and throat. There is a narrow dark loral stripe and white supercilium from the bill to above the rear ear-coverts. The mantle, back, scapulars, tertials and innerwing-covert are pale brownish-grey with fine dark streaks. The underbody is white with a brownish-grey wash and fine dark streaks on the foreneck and breast.

Curlew Sandpiper's facts

The Curlew Sandpiper, although breeding in northern Asia, seems to stray to many parts of the world outside of its normal haunts

The numbers of this species (and of Little Stint) depend on the population of lemmings. In poor lemming years, predatory species such as skuas and Snowy Owls will take Arctic-breeding waders instead.

This species occasionally hybridizes with the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and the Pectoral Sandpiper, producing the presumed "species" called "Cooper's Sandpiper" and "Cox's Sandpiper.”

A group of sandpipers has many collective nouns, including a "bind", "contradiction", "fling", "hill", and "time-step" of sandpipers.

Curlew Sandpiper's Behavior & Ecology

The Curlew sandpiper is a very long distance migrant, although much of the migration and staging strategy is not fully understood.

The Curlew Sandpiper gives a soft, rippling “kirrip” or “prrriit”. The song is more complex, including series of chatters, trills and whinnies.

The Curlew Sandpiper feeds on crustaceans (amphipods and shrimps), molluscs, marine worms and insects (mainly flies and beetles). Insects are the main part of the diet during the breeding season. Some seeds can be eaten too.

It feeds in shallow water and wet mud, pecking prey from the surface or probing in mud with the bill. It feeds both by day and by night.

Outside the breeding season, it is gregarious and forms large, mixed-species flocks on feeding areas and at roosting sites.

At the beginning of the breeding season, the Curlew Sandpiper establishes the territory by calling, often perched on mound or some elevated place. The male performs a low flight display with slow wingbeats interspersed with glides and accompanied by song.

Other displays show the male pursuing the female in flight. On the ground, the male circles the female, running in zigzag pattern with raised wings and fanned tail, in order to expose the white rump. Both mates also perform ritualized nest-making movements. The male does not take part in nesting duties.


The Curlew Sandpiper is migratory. The males leave the breeding grounds in late June/early July, about 3-4 weeks before the females. They reach Africa from mid-July in north, and mostly September in south. It reaches Australia in late August/early September. The juveniles migrate 4-6 weeks later than adults.

The return migration occurs in late April to May. The breeding grounds are reoccupied from early June. The 1st year birds often remain on the breeding areas.

The Curlew Sandpiper has swift, direct flight with rapid wingbeats.

Curlew Sandpiper's Feeding

The diet of the curlew sandpiper mainly consists of insects and other small invertebrates such as crustaceans, mollusks and worms, but it will also occasionally feed on seeds and other plant material. It uses its magnificent bill to forage in the mud for prey, and probes continuously as it walks quickly across its habitat.

Curlew Sandpiper's Reproduction

The breeding season takes place in June-July. The Curlew Sandpiper nests on the tundra close to marshes and pools, or along low ridges and gentle slopes in the wet, grassy tundra.

The nest is on the ground, with a density ranging from 2-3 nests/km², sometimes 200-300 metres apart, or up to 50 birds/km².

The nest is a shallow scrape on the ground, lined with leaves, moss and lichens. It is built by the female alone. Sometimes, several females may nest close together, involving probably better nest defence.

 The female lays 3-8, usually 4 cryptic creamy-white to olive eggs with dark markings. She incubates alone during 19-21 days. The chicks leave the nest soon after hatching, and the female leads them to more grassy areas in the tundra. They are able to feed themselves, but they are accompanied by the female. They fledge two weeks after hatching.

Curlew Sandpiper's Conservation

This species is a rare visitor to Maldives.

In Maldives, this species is protected by law since 22nd May 2003. 

The Curlew Sandpiper is currently classified as ‘Near Threatened’ by IUCN.

Curlew Sandpiper's Relationship with Humans

All waders are affected by coastal development, including drainage and land-clearing in their preferred habitats.

Curlew Sandpiper habitat

This species breeds on slightly elevated areas in the lowlands of the high Arctic especially on southward-facing slopes, as well as along the coast and islands of the Arctic Ocean (Johnsgard 1981, del Hoyo et al. 1996). It shows a preference for open tundra with marshy, boggy depressions and pools (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998, Lappo et al. 2012) from melting permafrost and snow (Snow and Perrins 1998). The nest is a cup positioned on the margins of marshes or pools, on the slopes of hummock tundra, or on dry patches in Polygonum tundra (del Hoyo et al. 1996). In the winter the species chiefly occurs on coastal brackish lagoons, tidal mud- and sand-flats, estuaries, saltmarshes (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998), exposed coral, rocky shores and tidewrack on sandy beaches (Urban et al. 1986), and also inland on the muddy edges of marshes, large rivers and lakes (both saline and freshwater), irrigated land, flooded areas (del Hoyo et al. 1996), dams (Urban et al. 1986) and saltpans (Khomenko 2006). On the breeding grounds the diet of this species consists mainly of insects, such as the adults, pupae and larva of Diptera (e.g. midges, craneflies (Johnsgard 1981)) and beetles, as well as bugs and leeches (del Hoyo et al. 1996). In the winter its diet consists of polychaete worms, molluscs, crustaceans (such as amphipods, brine shrimps and copepods), and occasionally insects and seeds (del Hoyo et al.1996). It is a full migrant, moving long distances by well-travelled routes (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Snow and Perrins 1998).

Curlew Sandpiper threats

The key threat in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway population is thought to be loss of stopover habitats in the Yellow Sea (see Melville et al. 2016). In China and South Korea important migrational staging areas of this species around the coast of the Yellow Sea are being lost through land reclamation, and degraded as a result of declining river flows (from water abstraction), increased environmental pollution, unsustainable harvesting of benthic fauna and a reduction in the amount of sediment being carried into the area by the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers (Barter 2002, Barter 2006, Kelin and Qiang 2006). These losses are thought to be driving declines in shorebird populations (Amano et al. 2010, Yang et al. 2011, Melville et al. 2016). It is estimated that up to 65% of tidal flats in the Yellow Sea region have been lost over the past five decades, with an annual loss of 1.2% per year since the 1980s (Murray et al. 2014).

The species is threatened on the south-east coast of India (Point Calimere) by illegal hunting (bird trapping), reservoir and marshland habitat alteration by salt-industries, and habitat degradation by diminishing rainfall (changing the salt regime) (Balachandran 2006). It is also threatened at Walvis Bay in Namibia, a key wetland site in southern Africa, by habitat degradation (e.g. changes in the flood regime due to road building, and wetland reclamation for suburb and port development), and disturbance from tourism (Wearne and Underhill 2005). This species is susceptible to avian influenza (Melville and Shortridge 2006, Gaidet et al. 2007) and avian botulism (Blaker 1967, van Heerden 1974) so may be threatened by future outbreaks of these diseases.

Curlew Sandpiper's status