Eastern Curlew

Numenius madagascariensis

Click to view a larger image. Click to view a larger image. bird bird

Eastern Curlew
Image: Ian Burton-Tarrant
Source: Ian Burton-Tarrant

Museum specimen featured in the Wild exhibition
Source: Museum Victoria

Type: bird

Eastern Curlew Eastern Curlew
Image: Ian Burton-Tarrant
Source: Ian Burton-Tarrant

Victorian Conservation Status

Secure Vulnerable Endangered Extinct  ]

Eastern Curlew populations are declining in eastern Australia. The conservation of this species is truly a global effort, since their migration takes them through many regions. In Victoria, habitat is disappearing because of drought, for example around the Gippsland Lakes. Pollution of waterways and human disturbance also impacts upon these birds.



Eastern Curlews are carnivores.

They feed on crabs, worms, molluscs and insects.


Eastern Curlew relative size depiction as described below

Size relative to a sparrow and a cat.

900 g
60–66 cm

Amazing Eastern Curlews

Eastern Curlews are the largest of the migratory wading birds, all of which live in costal areas and have long legs and a long bill. Their bills can be over 18 cm long and are used to pluck prey from the muddy shallows. They forage for crabs, molluscs and other invertebrates during the day and night.

These birds migrate huge distances every year, according to the season. They fly continuously for two or three days, then stop in wetlands to rest and feed before continuing. In the northern summer they breed in Russia and north-eastern China in bogs and swamps. They lay four eggs in a nest among reeds in June or July. Young Eastern Curlews feed themselves by catching mosquitoes and other insects. By late July or August, Eastern Curlews depart for the southern hemisphere. Large numbers reach the eastern coast of Australia by September, where they remain until late February or March.

The plumage of Eastern Curlews is mottled brown with a distinctive pale underwing and barred flight feathers that are visible while they are in flight. Their wing beats are slow and steady, and they make a loud melancholy call that rises in pitch, sounding like ‘cuuuur-lee'.

Did You Know?

Eastern Curlews

  • breed in the northern hemisphere then migrate to the southern hemisphere for the rest of the year
  • are the world’s largest migratory wading birds
  • have curved bills that are almost half as long as their bodies


Eastern Curlews are found throughout coastal Australia (mainly in the north-east and south) after migrating from the northern hemisphere. They are widespread in coastal areas including mudflats, estuaries, swamps and shorelines.


Other animals from the Victorian Coastal Wetlands

Red-necked StintBar-tailed Godwit