The Far Eastern Curlew Satellite Tracking Project

as of 12 June 1997

About the Project

The Far Eastern Curlew Satellite Project was initiated after discussions held at the 8th Conference of the Japan-Australia Migratory Bird Protection Agreement held in Queensland, Australia, in 1995.

The Far Eastern Curlew (Numenius madagascariensis) is a migratory shorebird which generally inhabits sea and lake shore mud flats, deltas and similar areas, where it forages for crabs and other crustaceans, clam worms and other annelids, molluscs, insects and whatever else it can dig out of the mud with its long, downward-turned bill. Its migration route ranges from its wintering grounds in Australia to its breeding grounds in northern China, Korea and Russia.

Far Eastern Curlew numbers are currently in decline. Consequently, Japan, Russia, China and Australia are conducting a joint survey to determine the migration route and resting sites for this species. The purpose of the survey is to gather basic data to open the way for the establishment of a structure of international cooperative protection for the curlew and its wetland habitat. It is the first phase of a broader study into the ecology and movements of the species.

The work is being undertaken by the Wild Bird Society of Japan and the Queensland Wader Study Group with support from the Queensland Department of Environment. The project is funded by the Governments of Australia and Japan, and assisted by the Japanese telecommunications company NTT. American and Japanese PTTs are being used.

PROGRESS TO DATE - 12 June 1997
Northward Migration News (Shorebirds)

This is an update and perhaps the final chapter of the first phase, but if the batteries last, there may be more surprises in store.

As noted in earlier reports, Cyclone Justin in the Coral Sea (the largest in15 years) influenced the progress of six of the birds that left in early to mid March from Moreton Bay. All of these birds made it as far as southeastern Papua New Guinea but no farther, two have returned to Moreton Bay, one is near Princess Charlotte Bay on Cape York Peninsula (north Queensland) and one remains in Papua New Guinea. One bird we know has perished and another almost certainly has, having been located in the eye of the cyclone for several days until contact was lost.

The other six birds left over the period up until the first week in April. They moved in a more westerly route but out to sea from the Queensland coast and towards the Central Cordilla of New Guinea, presumably because they were not under the same influence of cyclonic north and north easterly winds. One bird made a conservative return flight of under 700 km to the Great Sandy Strait (another important coastal wetland north of Moreton Bay) but the other five have made substantial flights. One flew to the north of Papua New Guinea but returned to Moreton Bay within a week. Another flew as far as the Caroline Islands (7 degrees north), then returned to Moreton Bay via New Ireland and the southeast coast of Papua New Guinea over a period of more than a month, with a final direct flight from PNG to southeastern Queensland of 1800 km.

Of the remaining three birds, two made it to Russia, one is ensconced within the breeding range in the Arum Region (50 degrees north, 130 degrees east). Signals from the second of these two birds are weak, but it is located somewhere farther to the east and possibly moving around. The other bird to have made it well into the northern hemisphere recorded a dramatic 6500+ km non-stop flight from Moreton Bay but contact was lost somewhere to the east of Taiwan, hopefully because the transmitter fell off (they are designed to do so in due course).

By about mid-May, all long-distance flights had ceased with combined flight distances for all twelve birds of over 60,000 km. Five birds are back in their over-wintering quarters, on their home patch, two are well within the breeding range, one is in North Queensland, another in Papua New Guinea, two have perished and the other, hopefully, jettisoned the back pack rather than ditched in the sea. Kind regards to all and thanks to the curlews.

Further details on the project can be viewed on an NTT WEB page at "".

Read the first instalment of this curlew adventure, dated 29 April 1997

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