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Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea

This species has been uplisted to Near Threatened owing to a global population decline which is thought to approach the threshold for Vulnerable under the population size reduction criterion (A4abc). The species has an extremely large range and the overall population trend is very difficult to determine due to varying trends in different populations along different flyways. The population using the East Asian-Australasian Flyway is thought to be experiencing severe declines due to habitat loss in the Yellow Sea. Should new information arise providing clarification on the overall population trend it may warrant uplisting or downlisting.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

Taxonomic note
Calidris paramelanotos (Hayman et al.1986) was treated as a subspecies of C. melanotos following Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993) but is now considered a hybrid of C. melanotus and C. ferruginea following Higgins and Davies (1996). Calidris cooperi was described by Baird in 1858 based on a specimen collected on Long Island, New York, USA in May 1833 (Cox 1990b). There is a possible Australian record of a bird captured at Stockton, New South Wales, Australia, in March 1981 (Cox 1990a), but studies of the type suggest that the form is of hybrid origin, Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper C. acuminata (Cox 1990b).

18-23 cm medium-sized sandpiper. Longish neck and legs and long, decurved bill. Head, neck and all upperparts rusty rufous to deep chestnut-red, with dark streaks on crown. Mantle and scapulars dark brown with chestnut and whitish fringes. Wing coverts greyer. Female normally has longer bill, paler and more likely to have white barring on underparts. Non-breeding adult plain grey above, white below, white supercilium and sides of breast washed grey. Juvenile similar to non-breeding adult (Van Gils and Wiersma 1996).

Distribution and population
The species breeds across Arctic Siberia from the Yamal Peninsula to Kolyuchinskaya Gulf (north Chukotskiy Peninsula) (Russia), and winters from sub-Saharan Africa through the Middle East and south and south-east Asia to Australasia (van Gils and Wiersma 1996). In the western Palearctic the species follows three migratory routes: down western European coasts to West Africa; across eastern Europe via the Black Sea and Tunisia to West Africa (following the coast of North Africa or via Mali); and via the Black Sea and Caspian Sea and across the Middle East and Rift Valley lakes to southern and eastern Africa (Van Gils and Wiersma 1996). On return migration few birds use the western European flyway, instead moving up via Tunisia and Sivash (north Crimea). Birds that move south through Sivash winter in east, central and southern Africa and probably migrate north via the Caspian Sea. Birds also move across Siberia to India, some may continue down through south-east Asia to Australia but many birds winter in southern India and Sri Lanka, they may also move overland to east Asia and via the coast of China to Australia (Van Gils and Wiersma 1996). 

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number c.1,085,000-1,285,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2015). The minimum European population in winter is estimated at 1,000-1,800 individuals, which equates to 690-1,200 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). The population wintering in West Africa is estimated at 350,000-450,000 individuals (van Roomen et al. 2015).

Trend justification
Population trends are very difficult to determine for this species, however overall it is suspected to be declining. The population wintering in south-west Asia, the Middle East and east and southern Africa is estimated to have undergone a moderate long-term increase and a large decline in the short-term (since c. 2007) (Nagy et al. 2014). However the data had limited coverage, particularly in the Red Sea and southern Gulf. A wintering population of c. 45,000 individuals at Walvis Bay and Sandwich Harbour in Namibia was stable between 1990 and 2013 (Simmons et al. 2015).

In West Africa count data show the population experienced a short-term decline between 2003 and 2014 and a long-term decline between 1979 and 2014 (32.9% decline over three generations (23 years)) (van Roomen et al. 2014). At Banc d'Arguin (Mauritania) and Bijagos (Guinea Bissau), the strongholds of the West African wintering population, the population has been decreasing (M. van Roomen in litt. 2015). However Dodman (2014) did not find a population decline, instead suggesting that the population was continuing to increase. This population trend is therefore uncertain. The population trend in the south Asian wintering population is unknown (Wetlands International 2015). Approximately 11-12% of the global population uses the East Asian-Australasian Flyway. An analysis of monitoring data from around Australia and New Zealand estimated the population had declined by 80.5% in three generations (Studds et al. in prep.). The decline observed in Australia may be representative of the whole flyway, however Amano et al. (2010) found no clear trend between 1978 and 2008.

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) 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 sandflats, 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).

The key threat in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway population is thought to be loss of stopover habitats in the Yellow Sea. 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). 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.

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
The species is listed on Annex II of the Bern Convention.

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Protect remaining intertidal habitats across the species's range (including the Yellow Sea) to prevent further habitat loss and degradation (Yang et al. 2011). Continue and expand monitoring schemes. Raise awareness of the species.

Amano, T.; Szekely, T.; Koyama, K.; Amano, H.; Sutherland, W. J. 2010. A framework for monitoring the status of populations: an example from wader populations in the East Asian-Australasian flyway. Biological Conservation 143: 2238-2247.

Balachandran, S. 2006. The decline in wader populations along the east coast of India with special reference to Point Calimere, south-east India. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 296-301. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Barter, M. 2002. Shorebirds of the Yellow Sea. Wetlands International, Canberra, Australia.

Barter, M. A. 2006. The Yellow Sea - a vitally important staging region for migratory shorebirds. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 663-667. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Beaumont, L. J.; McAllan, I. A. W.; Hughes, L. 2006. A matter of timing: changes in the first date of arrival and last date of departure of Australian migratory birds. Global Change Biology 12: 1339-1354.

BirdLife International. 2015. European Red List of Birds. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

Blaker, D. 1967. An outbreak of Botulinus poisoning among waterbirds. Ostrich 38(2): 144-147.

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Dodman, T. 2014. Status, Estimates and Trends of Waterbird Populations in Africa: AEWA-listed African populations. Wetlands International.

Gaidet, N., Dodman, T., Caron, A., Balanca, G., Desvaux, S., Goutard, F., Cattoli, G., Lamarque, F., Hagemeijer, W. and Monicat, F. 2007. Avian Influenza Viruses in Water Birds, Africa. Emerging Infectious Diseases 13(4): 626-629.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Johnsgard, P. A. 1981. The plovers, sandpipers and snipes of the world. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, U.S.A. and London.

Kelin, C.; Qiang, X. 2006. Conserving migratory shorebirds in the Yellow Sea region. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 319. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Melville, D. S.; Shortridge, K. F. 2006. Migratory waterbirds and avian influenza in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway with particular reference to the 2003-2004 H5N1 outbreak. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 432-438. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Murray, N.J., Clemens, R.S., Phinn, S.R., Possingham, H.P. and Fuller, R.A. 2014. Tracking the rapid loss of tidal wetlands in the Yellow Sea. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 267-272.

Nagy, S., Flink, S. and Langendoen, T. 2014. Waterbird trends 1988-2012: Results of trend analyses of data from the International Waterbird Census in the African-Eurasian Flyway. Wetlands International, Ede.

Simmons, R.E., Kolberg, H., Braby, R. and Erni, B. 2015. Declines in migrant shorebird populations from a winter-quarter perspective. Conservation Biology 29(3): 877-887.

Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Studds, C.E. et al. in prep.. Dependence on the Yellow Sea predicts population collapse in a migratory flyway.

Urban, E.K., Fry, C.H. and Keith, S. 1986. The Birds of Africa, Volume II. Academic Press, London.

Van Gils, J. and Wiersma, P. 1996. Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. and de Juana, E. (eds), Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

van Heerden, J. 1974. Botulism in the Orange Free State goldfields. Ostrich 45(3): 182-184.

van Roomen M., Nagy S., Foppen R., Dodman T., Citegetse G. and Ndiaye A. 2015. Status of coastal waterbird populations in the East Atlantic Flyway. With special attention to flyway populations making use of the Wadden Sea. Programme Rich Wadden Sea, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, Sovon, Nijmegen, The Netherlands, Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands, BirdLife International, Cambridge, United Kingdom &, Common Wadden Sea Secretariat, Wilhelmshaven, Germany.

van Roomen, M., van Winden, E. and Langendoen, T. 2014. The assessment of trends and population sizes of a selection of waterbird species and populations from the coastal East Atlantic Flyway for Conservation Status Report 6 of The African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement.

Wearne, K.; Underhill, L. G. 2005. Walvis Bay, Namibia: a key wetland for waders and other coastal birds in southern Africa. Wader Study Group Bulletin 107: 24-30.

Wetlands International. 2015. Waterbird Population Estimates. Available at: (Accessed: 17/09/2015).

Yang, H.Y., Chen, B., Barter, M., Piersma, T., Zhou, C-F., Li, F-S. and Zhang, Z-W. 2011. Impacts of tidal land reclamation in Bohai Bay, China: ongoing losses of critical Yellow Sea waterbird staging and wintering sites. Bird Conservation International 21: 241-259.

Further web sources of information
Detailed regional assessment and species account from the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International, 2015)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Malpas, L., Symes, A. & Ashpole, J

Meltofte, H., Porter, R., Vyas, V., van Roomen, M., Nagy, S. & Balachandran, S.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Calidris ferruginea. Downloaded from on 28/11/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/11/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Curlew sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Scolopacidae (Sandpipers, Snipes, Phalaropes)
Species name author (Pontoppidan 1763)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1,200,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- Projected distributions under climate change
- 2015 European Red List assessment