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Curlew Sandpiper
Calidris ferruginea

Kedidi Pasir Kendi(Malay)

Curlew Sandpipers are the only medium-to-small wader in our region with a distinctive down-curved bill. The bill is rather long compared to their body size. They are commonly seen during the migrating season, often in large flocks of hundreds.

Curlew Sandpipers eat mainly worms, supplemented with bivales, gastropods, crustacea and sometimes seeds. When breeding, they eat mainly insects, especially flies and beetles.

Curlew Sandpipers forage on wet, soft mud by pecking and probing in an incessant "stitching" motion. They often keep this up for hours, foraging frantically as the tide retreats. They wash their worms before eating them! They feed both during the day and at night, whenever the tidal situation best suits their hunting style.

They rarely visit freshwater wetlands, foraging almost entirely on intertidal mud and often wade more deeply than other shorebirds.

When feeding, Curlew Sandpipers mix freely with other small waders but are themselves well dispersed. But they migrate and roost in flocks. They are among the few waders that roost by perching in mangrove trees, but also join mixed species roosts on remote beaches and bare clearings in mangrove forests.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Medium (18-23cm), slender; bill black, long (3-4cm), slightly decurved; legs black, longish.

Females generally larger with longer bills.

Summer/breeding: head and underparts bright rufous/chestnut; back scaly brown.

Winter/non-breeding: plain grey-brown above.

Juvenile: Like winter but with buffy wash on breast and flanks.

Call: Described as a liquid chreep; gentle liquid rippling chirrup; complex song comprising a series of chatters, trills and whinnies.
curlew sandpiper in breeding plumage
curlew sandpiper in non-breeding plumage
juvenile curlew sandpiper
Photos from
Rosair and Cottridge
In flight: White wingbar with white rump.

Similar birds:
Dunlin (Calidris alpina) a very rare visitor and migrant. The Dunlin is more dumpy, with shorter bill and legs, and in flight, has a dark centre to its white rump.

Status in Singapore: Very common winter visitor and passage migrant to coasts of the island and North offshore islands.

World distribution: Most of the Old World, including Australia and New Zealand.

Classification: Family Scolopacidae that includes sandpipers and snipes. World 88 species, Singapore 34 species. From the Order Charadriiformes (shorebirds and waders).
Breeding (June-July): Curlew Sandpipers breed mainly in central Siberia and coasts and islands of the Arctic Sea, a few in Northern Alaska. They put on partial breeding colours before leaving for breeding grounds at the end of winter (mostly the males).

Curlew Sandpipers nest in high-arctic coastal tundra on elevated areas of rough grass next to bogs and pools. Males usually return to the same nesting site. A male declares his territory with a song flight and slow wingbeats and glides. Only females appear to incubate while the males leave early. Males generally travel further south than females.

Migration: Although Curlew Sandpipers nest in a small area of Siberia, the birds then disperse over a wide area throughout the Old World including Australia and New Zealand. The major migration routes are to Africa; Black and Caspian Seas; Indian subcontinent; and Australasia. Singapore is a stopover on their way further south (August) and on their way back (March/April). They travel long distances non-stop. They winter on muddy, poorly vegetated wetland fringes, mainly coastal mudflats, estuaries, sandy shores, ponds; occasionally, inland swamps. But many non-breeders (mostly first year birds) may remain in their winter range all year.

Status and threats: Curlew Sandpipers are not considered at risk. But like other long-distance migrating waders, Curlew Sandpipers rely on wetlands to build up fat reserves for their marathon journeys.

  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 122: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • David R Wells, "The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 258-260: identification, distribution map, habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 60: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species)
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 39: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 81: description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 125: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • Peter Hayman (et. al), "Shorebirds: An Identification Guide to the Waders of the World", Christopher Helm, 1986 (p. 381-382: identification, distribution, habits, movements, diagrams)
  • David Rosair and David Cottridge, "Photographic Guide to the Shorebirds of the World", Facts on File, 1995 (p. 156: habits, movement, photos of adults-breeding and non-breeding, and juvenile).
  • "Handbook of the Birds of the World: Vol 3: Hoatzin to Auks", Lynx Edicions, 1996 (p. 508: identification, distribution map, habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
By Ria Tan, 2001