Bird of the Month: Long-billed Curlew

audubon-logo-wood-duck-square-medium-300x300By Russ Chappell

Long-billed Curlews (aka candlestick birds”) are a migratory species that spend summers in western North America and winters in southern wetlands, tidal estuaries, mudflats, flooded fields, and beaches.

These long-legged shorebirds are the size of crows. With wingspans of almost three feet, these birds have long, thin, down-curved bills. The females are slightly longer than the males. They have heavy spheroid bodies, long necks, and small heads. In terms of color, they’re brown with bars and speckles above and have plain cinnamon bellies and wings of brilliant cinnamon, visible during flight.

Long-billed Curlews strut with heads moving back and forth while walking or running. When they leap into the air to take flight, they thrust their legs behind them and retract their necks. During landings, they flap their wings upward, hover briefly before touching down, and often run a few feet following the landing.

These birds forage on shores and mud flats using their long bills to catch worms and burrowing shrimp and crabs. In grasslands, they feast on grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, and occasionally eggs and nestlings.

Monogamous during the breeding season, Long-billed Curlews often remaining paired in subsequent seasons. Nests are on the ground where the male and female form a shallow depression with their bills and chests, then line it with pebbles, tree bark, grass, and other shrubbery.

These birds have one brood per season with four 3” x 2” eggs, cream to greenish with purple-gray markings. Incubation is around 30 days and the young can leave the nest five hours after hatching. The parents are territorial and confront intruders by crouching, displaying their wings, and charging.

Urban expansion, crop pesticides, and hunting in the early 20th century caused their numbers to declined. However, they rebounded, with the current population estimated around 140,000. Prescott migration sightings have increased significantly in the past several years and the species is considered of low conservation concern.

For the latest Long-billed Curlew sighting locations, check eBird via the Prescott Audubon Society website, PrescottAudubon.Org. For in-depth information and a trio of related videos, visit the National Audubon’s shorebirds webpage via the National Audubon Society’s website, Audubon.Org.

[Author’s Note: Prescott Audubon Society’s “Window On Nature” presentations return in September. However, the summer offers numerous birding opportunities. Visit PrescottAudubon.Org or call 928-778-6502 for the latest information.]

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Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.

Russ Chappell is Prescott Audubon Society’s webmaster and enjoys photographing and studying the beautiful wildlife in the Prescott region.

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