The Little curlew (Numenius minutus) belongs to the large bird family Scolopacidae. In September and October, Little Curlews migrate from their breeding grounds in central and northeastern Siberia to Australia to spend the summer. They return to their breeding grounds in March-April. The bird flies along the east coast of China, and through Japan, the Philippines, and Sulawesi en route.
Almost all the world’s population flies on to Australia, most funneling through Darwin and nearby coastal plains on their journey south. Those who do not fly on to Australia spend their winter in the Lesser Sundas and Moluccas. Walking and flying through the city’s streets is then something they can be seen doing. Upon their return, they follow a broader route, passing through Darwin less frequently; very few remain.
The Little Curlews migrate to Australia in flocks of perhaps thousands to the northern coast. They don’t roost on the beaches, but on bare, dry sub-coastal plains and even on airfields and suburban lawns. The adults feed on seeds, caterpillars, and other invertebrates by probing and picking their way into cracks in the soil.
Wet seasons bring flooding to the plains, causing the birds to stay on dry ground further inland. Thousands of birds migrate to southern Australia when rains are widespread, congregating around the Gulf of Carpentaria during summer.
Its posture is more upright than that of its larger counterparts, especially when in alarm. As it glides gracefully, its beats are gentle and short, but deliberate. With a free, tripping gait, the birds skip across the grass plains. Nearly extinct Eskimo Curlews are their closest relatives. Among its other names are Little Whimbrels, and Pygmy Curlews.
The average size of Little Curlew measures between 310 and 330mm in length. There is no difference between the sexes. The upper parts of the animal are mottled dark brown and light buff, while the head and crown are dark browns with a buff center stripe and eyebrow. The rump and tail are buffs, with a heavy barring of dark brown. The flight feathers are dusky in color.
Dark brown streaks are lightly visible on the underparts of this bird. The eyes are dark brown, while the bill is slightly down-curved and dark brown with a dull yellow base. Grey-brown is the color of the legs and feet. In terms of appearance, immature birds resemble adults.
During foraging in flocks, Little Curlews are chirping communication chee-chee-chee. Birds fly off when startled, uttering harsh tcheutcheu-tcheu noises. A repetitive whistle is used in the call.
In Siberia, the breeding season begins in June and ends in July. The birds form large flocks and are gregarious. Feeding on small invertebrates, this species probes soft mud for them. Nests are built in depressions in the ground by birds.
Mainly in northern Australia, it spends the winter on grassland, cultivation, or near fresh water. There are three colors of eggs laid by this bird, olive-buff, brown, and slate-grey. Approximately 50 x 35mm, oval to pyriform. The Little Curlew is a non-breeding migrant that breeds in Siberia and Mongolia, and winters in Indonesia and northern Australia mainly in the sub-coastal region.