Bristle-thighed Curlews

The Bristle-thighed Curlew (Numenius tahitiensis), is a large shorebird that was first described scientifically during James Cook’s visits to Tahiti in the 18th century. However, its first nesting ground was only discovered in 1948.

Bristle-thighed Curlew, Numenius tahitiensis
Bristle-thighed Curlew


The Bristle-thighed Curlew migrate over long distances to and from their breeding territory with non-stop flights in excess of 6,000 km.

It breeds in Alaska and winters on tropical Pacific islands, including Micronesia, Fiji, Tonga, Hawaiian Islands, Samoa, and French Polynesia.

They usually migrate in small flocks.

The bird is rarely seen near populated land masses. Only a handful of sightings have been reported in Canada, California and Oregon.


The Bristle-thighed Curlew measures about 43 cm in length and has a wingspan of about 84 cm, with the female being typically larger than the male. It has a long, decurved bill and bristled feathers at the base of the legs.

The upper plumage is spotted brown; the abdomen is lighter in color and the tail is buffy or rust-colored.

The Bristle-thighed Curlews molt once a year and what is unique among shorebirds – they are flightless during molt.

Similar Species:

The size and shape are the same as the Whimbrel’s. The Bristle-thighed Curlew can be distinguished from the Whimbrel by the bigger buff spots on the upper body, unmarked light belly and barely marked flanks, tail color, and pale buffy-orange rump.

Nesting / Breeding

They nest on the lower Yukon River and Seward Peninsula, with a preference for the low-lying tundra near the shoreline.

Nests are placed in ground depressions and lined with tundra moss.

The eggs are greenish in color with brown spots. The average clutch consists of 4 eggs and only one brood is produced in a season. The incubation lasts about 25 days. Both parents tend to the nest and chicks.

Adults leave their young when they are about five weeks old to migrate south. The chicks continue to feed until they are able to make the journey.

Diet / Feeding

Bristle-thighed Curlews mostly feed on a wide variety of vegetation, such as flowers and berries and on insects, sea life, and the eggs of other birds, which they use rocks to break open—the only known tool to be used among shorebirds.

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