Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea
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General Comments The Curlew Sandpiper is one of just several species of Eurasian nesting shorebirds on the North Carolina state list. Until about 2000, it was seen practically annually along the coast; however, reports in recent years have dwindled, for uncertain reasons. Looking very similar to a Dunlin in basic plumage, in alternate (breeding) plumage it is a beautiful bird with rusty-colored underparts, somewhat like a Red Knot. This species was traditionally found most readily on the extensive sand/mud flats at Portsmouth Island, and might still be regular there in migration, but few people make the boat trip there anymore. Other favored habitats in North Carolina are fresh to slightly brackish impoundments and pools, where at times it feeds in water that is belly-deep.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5?
Coastal Plain Transient along the coast, declining. Formerly rare in spring, and again from mid-summer into fall. For unknown reasons, there are few recent reports, and now very rare in migration from Bodie/Pea islands south to Portsmouth Island. One photographed at Pea Island NWR from 22-26 Jul 2018 and again at neighboring Bodie Island on 27-28 Jul 2018* [Chat 82:109 link] was the first state record since around 2008. One adult molting out of breeding plumage was photographed at South Point on Ocracoke Island (Hyde) on 16 Aug 2018; this likely was the same individual as seen farther north in July. In 2019, was one photographed at Pea Island on 15 May. Casual to very rare at these seasons elsewhere along the coast (mostly at Eagle Island near Wilmington). Mainly from early May to early Jun, and early Jul to late Oct, with a "peak" from late Jul to late Aug. A few records between early Jun and early Jul, and two in winter: 1 at Pea Island on 5 Dec 2001 [Chat 66:99 link] and 1 that lingered at Portsmouth Island from July into 22 Jan 1993 [Chat 58:26 link], the latter providing for an exceptional midwinter record for the United States. Peak counts: 5, Portsmouth Island, 28 Jul 1992; 4, Pea Island, 16-22 Jul 1989. The only record away from the coast is 1 at the Cedar Island ferry terminal, 12-15 Aug 2007.
Piedmont No records.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips The species seems to prefer the impoundments at Pea Island NWR, at least formerly the large tidal pond at Cape Hatteras point, and the flats at Portsmouth Island, possibly the single best place on the Atlantic coast for them. However, Portsmouth requires a boat, and considerable time expenditure, to reach. Birds in early fall (Jul and Aug) may still be in alternate plumage, but late fall birds are mostly juveniles. Interestingly, most Curlew Sandpipers are present when the similar-looking Dunlins are absent.
Attribution LeGrand[2019-08-14], LeGrand[2019-04-19], LeGrand[2019-04-18]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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