WatchList Species Account for Bristle-thighed Curlew
(Numenius tahitiensis)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species

Photo: Bill Hubick

The Bristle-thighed Curlew breeds only in two remote areas on the tundra of western Alaska, on the lower Yukon River and the central Seward Peninsula. It nests in dwarf-shrub meadows of several types; these predominate at both nesting areas.


This species is a long-distance transoceanic migrant, making non-stop flights of some 2,500 miles over the Pacific Ocean. During migration they stage in the Yukon Delta on a mosaic of tundra and meadows, roosting at night in shallow brackish ponds.


The species winters on atolls and small islands in Oceania, though some overwinter on the main Hawaiian islands. In winter the birds use a wide variety of habitats on islands; these include tital mudflats, marshy areas, beaches, open areas away from the shorline, and airport runways.

Insects and spiders are the main foods during breeding, along with fruits and flowers of shrubs; in winter the birds are opportunistic and feed on intertidal and terrestrial insects, seabird eggs and young, carrion, lizards, rodents, and fruits. The bird has been observed using a stone to break seabird eggs.

Surveys from 1988-1992 on the breeding areas revealed about 3,200 breeding pairs. During winter about 800 birds were estimated to winter in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The birds have been shot or trapped for food both in Alaska and on the wintering grounds, where harvest is thought to be much lower than in the past. Habitat modification on wintering grounds is severe in parts of its range, and use of off-road vehicles associated with mining continue to degrade habitat on the Seward Peninsula, site of one of its two Alaskan breeding grounds.

These curlews become flightless during molt on the wintering grounds, when they are vulnerable to introduced mammals such as feral dogs and cats.