The diet of the curlew sandpiper mainly consists of insects and other small invertebrates such as crustaceans, molluscs and worms, but it will also occasionally feed on seeds and other plant material (7). It uses its magnificent bill to forage in the mud for prey, and probes continuously as it walks quickly across its habitat (7).
This elegant bird is very social, forming large groups with other waders such as the dunlin. Its migration is long and arduous, with some birds travelling from western Europe to as far as Australia to spend the winter. In England, these wonderful birds can be seen picking through the muddy shores mainly in August and September (3).
During the courtship season, a male will follow closely behind a potential mate whilst she forages, every once in a while producing a song. It will also perform an aerial courtship display, demonstrating its agility and speed with dramatic chases back and forth across the tundra with the male pursuing the female in long dynamic flights that are low to the ground (8).
Male curlew sandpipers do not take part in parental care, instead females group together to build nests, incubate and raise their broods. Between two to six females may nest close together; a behaviour that means that females can cooperate in predator defence (9). During the hatchlings’ first week of life, the female moves them from their nesting site to ‘rearing areas’ of moist, grassy tundra, where prey is more readily available (9).
Interestingly, the abundance of the curlew sandpiper has been discovered to depend on the lemming population (Lemmus sibirica and Dicrostonyx torquatus), which fluctuates on a three-year cycle; during years when the numbers of lemmings plummets, predators such as the Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) and the skua (Stercorarius skua) switch to feed on juvenile curlew sandpipers instead (10) (11).