Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

curlew Numenius arquata, a drab-coloured bird of about 60 cm (24") in average total length, of migrant habits, with breeding grounds in the north of Asia and Europe.

The curlew is not a common article of food, although it used to enjoy some popularity. Birds which have been feeding at sea or on the coast tend to have a fishy taste. Those taken from inland moors, where they eat berries and insects, are greatly preferable.
The Scots name for curlew is whaup.

The godwits mentioned in early English cookery books are marsh birds of the genus Limosa, not unlike the curlew, but smaller. They had a high reputation as table fare. Sir Thomas Browne (1902), writing in the 17th century about the natural history of Norfolk, observed that they ‘were accounted the daintiest dish in England and I think, for the bignesse, of the biggest price’.