#ThreatenedSpecies of the Week: Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis)

In Western Australia, the Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) is listed as fauna that is ‘likely to become extinct’ in the wild and is noted as Specially Protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950.
Photo Credit: Birds in Backyards
Photo Credit: Birds in Backyards

Nationally the species is also listed as Critically Endangered under the EPBC Act 1999. The Eastern Curlew is the largest wader that visits Australia, and stands out from the other species due to their call – a mournful ‘Cuuuurrlew’, which rings out beautifully across vast coastal wetlands. In the Midwest, the species has been recorded at the Houtman Abrolhos islands and adjacent mainland, and also in Shark Bay.

The Eastern Curlew is a bulky, dark-streaked brown wader, with a long neck and legs. When flying, the barred flight feathers are visible, lighter under the wings and dark above. They are wary birds, quick to take flight.

Their impressive bill, which is characteristic of the species, is used to probe the mud and dig-up crabs, their main food source in Australia. Sadly, its down-curved shape also mimics the decline of Australia’s migratory shorebirds. About 75 per cent of the world’s curlews spend winter in Australia, so we have a responsibility to protect coastal wetlands for them and the smaller shorebirds that live in their shadow.

Threats in Australia, especially eastern and southern Australia, include ongoing human disturbance, habitat loss, and habitat degradation from pollution, changes to the water regime and invasive plants. Human disturbance can cause shorebirds to interrupt their feeding or roosting, and may influence the area of otherwise suitable feeding habitat that is actually used. Disturbance to pre-migratory Eastern Curlews may adversely affect their capacity to migrate, as the birds will use energy reserves to avoid disturbance, rather than for migration. Eastern Curlews are disturbed and take flight when humans approach too closely. Coastal development, land reclamation, construction of barrages, and fluctuations in water levels can destroy feeding habitat. Pollution around settled areas may reduce the availability of food.

Formerly, Eastern Curlews were hunted intensively on breeding grounds and at stopover points while on migration. Threats along their migratory route include sea level rise, environmental pollution, reduced river flows, human disturbance and reclamation for tidal power plants and barrages, industrial use, and urban expansion. Additional threats include disturbance at nesting sites and hunting on the breeding grounds.


Information Source: Government of Australia, Department of Environment and Energy; and Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, and Florabase.

Related Posts

Leave a reply