| Long-billed curlew (Numenius americanus)|
Fishing Pier, Goose Island State Park, Texas
Palnumenius Miller, 1942
The curlews //, genus Numenius, are a group of eight species of birds, characterised by long, slender, downcurved bills and mottled brown plumage. The English name is imitative of the Eurasian curlew's call, but may have been influenced by the Old French corliu, "messenger", from courir , "to run". It was first recorded in 1377 in Langland's Piers Plowman "Fissch to lyue in þe flode..Þe corlue by kynde of þe eyre". The genus name Numenius is from Ancient Greek noumenios, a bird mentioned by Hesychius. It is associated with the curlews because it appears to be derived from neos, "new" and mene "moon", referring to the crescent-shaped bill In Europe "curlew" usually refers to one species, the Eurasian curlew Numenius arquata.
Curlews feed on mud or very soft ground, searching for worms and other invertebrates with their long bills. They will also take crabs and similar items.
Curlews enjoy a worldwide distribution. Most species show strong migratory habits and consequently one or more species can be encountered at different times of the year in Europe, Ireland, Britain, Iberia, Iceland, Africa, Southeast Asia, Siberia, North America, South America and Australasia.
The distribution of curlews has altered considerably in the past hundred years as a result of changing agricultural practices. Reclamation and drainage of marshy fields and moorland, and afforestation of the latter, have led to local decreases, while conversion of forest to grassland in some parts of Scandinavia has led to increases there.
Species in taxonomic order
- Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
- Slender-billed curlew Numenius tenuirostris – critically endangered, possibly extinct (early 21st century?)
- Eurasian curlew Numenius arquata
- Long-billed curlew Numenius americanus
- Far Eastern curlew Numenius madagascariensis
- Little curlew Numenius minutus
- Eskimo curlew Numenius borealis – critically endangered, possibly extinct (early 1960s?)
- Bristle-thighed curlew Numenius tahitiensis
The Late Eocene (Montmartre Formation, some 35 mya) fossil Limosa gypsorum of France was originally placed in Numenius and may in fact belong there. Apart from that, a Late Pleistocene curlew from San Josecito Cave, Mexico has been described. This fossil was initially placed in a distinct genus, Palnumenius, but was actually a chronospecies or paleosubspecies related to the long-billed curlew.
The upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda) is an odd bird which is the closest relative of the curlews. It is distinguished from them by its yellow legs, long tail, and shorter, less curved bill.
- "Curlew". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 276. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
- Thomas, Gavin H.; Wills, Matthew A. & Székely, Tamás (2004): "A supertree approach to shorebird phylogeny".BMC Evol. Biol. 4: 28. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-4-28 PMID 15329156 Supplementary Material
- Encyclopedia of the Animal World (1977): Vol.6: 518–519. Bay Books, Sydney.
- Olson, Storrs L. (1985): Section X.D.2.b. Scolopacidae. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 174–175. Academic Press, New York.
- Arroyo-Cabrales, Joaquín & Johnson, Eileen (2003): Catálogo de los ejemplares tipo procedentes de la Cueva de San Josecito, Nuevo León, México. Revista Mexicana de Ciencias Geológicas 20(1): 79–93. [Spanish with English abstract] PDF fulltext
- Bodsworth, Fred (1987). Last of the Curlews. ISBN 0-396-09187-3. (originally published in 1954)