Long-billed Curlew Life History


Habitat GrasslandsLong-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.Back to top


Food Aquatic invertebratesLong-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. Back to top


Nest Placement

Nest GroundMales 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.

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.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:4 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:2.3-2.9 in (5.9-7.4 cm)
Egg Width:1.6-2.0 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.
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Behavior ProbingLong-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.Back to top


Conservation Low ConcernLong-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. A 2012 study estimated a North American population of about 140,000 birds. Long-billed Curlew rates a 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. It is on the 2016 State of North America's Birds Watch List, which lists species most in danger of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats. 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% of Canadian native grasslands are gone, and wintering habitat in California wetlands has declined by 90%. 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. Back to top


Andres, B. A., P. A. Smith, R. I. G. Morrison, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, S. C. Brown and C. A. Friis. 2012a. Population estimates of North American shorebirds, 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin no. 119 (3):178-194.

Dugger, Bruce D. and Katie M. Dugger. 2002. Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon and W. A. Link. The North American breeding bird survey, results and analysis 1966-2015 (Version 2.07.2017). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center 2017.

Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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