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Long-billed Curlew

Numenius americanus ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: SCOLOPACIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

North America's largest shorebird, the Long-billed Curlew breeds in the grasslands of the Great Plains and Great Basin.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
19.7–25.6 in
50–65 cm
Wingspan
24.4–35 in
62–89 cm
Weight
17.3–33.5 oz
490–950 g
Other Names
  • Courlis à long bec (French)
  • Zarapito pico largo (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Both the male and female Long-billed Curlew incubate the eggs, and both are aggressive in defense of nests and young. The female typically abandons the brood two to three weeks after hatching and leaves brood care to her mate. Despite this abandonment the same male and female often pair with each other again the next year.
  • Although the Long-billed Curlew's diet includes many species of invertebrates and some vertebrates, its bill is best adapted for capturing shrimp and crabs living in deep burrows on tidal mudflats (its wintering grounds) or burrowing earthworms in pastures.
  • The female Long-billed Curlew's bill is longer than the male's, and is a different shape. Hers is flatter on top with a more pronounced curve at the tip. His is gently curved throughout its length. The juvenile's bill is distinctly shorter than the adults' during its first few months, but it may be equal to the male's length some time in its first year.

Habitat


Grassland

Long-billed Curlews spend summers in areas of western North America with sparse, short grasses, including shortgrass and mixed-grass prairies as well as agricultural fields. After their young leave the nest they may move to areas with taller, denser grasses. In winter they migrate to the coasts and to interior Mexico, where you can find them in wetlands, tidal estuaries, mudflats, flooded fields, and occasionally beaches.

Food


Insects

Long-billed Curlews eat insects, marine crustaceans, and bottom-dwelling marine invertebrates. The remarkably long, downcurved bill allows curlews to forage for earthworms and other deep-burrowing prey such as shrimp and crabs. Sometimes Long-billed Curlews simply peck at the ground, eating grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, and occasionally small animals.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
4 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
2.3–2.9 in
5.9–7.4 cm
Egg Width
1.7–2 in
4.2–5 cm
Incubation Period
27–31 days
Egg Description
Creamy-brown to greenish greenish-brown or purplish-gray markings.
Condition at Hatching
Born with eyes open, down-covered, and able to leave the nest 5 hours after hatching. Capable of searching for food after 10 hours.
Nest Description

Males begin by making a simple, shallow scrape in the ground. Females also contribute, using the breast and bill to shovel out a depression in the ground for nesting. Once the depression is formed, materials such as pebbles, bark, animal droppings, grass, stems, twigs, and seeds are all possible materials used for lining the nest, which is about 8 inches across and 3 inches deep.

Nest Placement

Ground

Males make scrapes in the ground in dry areas with low vegetation as part of courtship; females choose one. Nests are often put near objects like rocks or piles of dirt or manure, perhaps to use as landmarks, provide shade, or hide the nest.

Behavior


Probing

Long-billed Curlews are often seen probing for food during the breeding season in groups, in pairs, or by themselves. Around the nest, however, curlews are highly territorial and exhibit a variety of threat displays. When flying, curlews jump into the air to take off and then alternate between flapping and gliding.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Long-billed Curlews appear to be declining in eastern parts of their breeding range such as the Great Plains, while they are slightly increasing in some western areas including the Columbia Plateau and Rocky Mountains. The species was much more numerous in the nineteenth century, but numbers fell in response to hunting and conversion of their grassland breeding habitat to agriculture and housing. This is thought to be one reason why Long-billed Curlews are now scarce in winter along the Atlantic coast. The major continuing threat to Long-billed Curlews is habitat loss owing both to development and projected effects of climate change. For example, more than 75 percent of Canadian native grasslands are gone, and wintering habitat in California wetlands has declined by 90 percent. Pesticide spraying may harm curlews indirectly by reducing the birds' food supplies, particularly grasshoppers. According to NatureServe, breeding populations are of particular concern in Arizona and Kansas.

Credits

  • Dugger, B. D., and K. M. Dugger. 2002. Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus).In The Birds of North Americaa, No .628 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Range Map Help

Long-billed Curlew Range Map
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