Long-billed Curlew

Leonard and I found an area in the McArthur Swamp (Shasta County CA) where long-billed curlews (Numenius americanus) are nesting. Usually we see them in flight, so it was most exciting to find the curlews on the ground.

This largest of the North American shorebirds winters in wetlands along the coasts (the Atlantic population is declining) and the interior of Mexico. Its summer habitat in the grasslands of the Great Plains and Great Basin of the West is very different from its non-breeding environment.

A buffy brown bird without distinctive markings and long gray legs, the most striking feature of the long-billed curlew is its extremely long, strongly downcurved bill. Although this curlew eats invertebrates and some small animals, the bill is best adapted to digging deep into tidal mudflats in the winter for shrimp and crabs and unearthing burrowing earthworms from grasslands in the summer. The female looks similar to the male but is bigger and has a larger bill than the male. I look at that long bill and am amazed that curlews can function at all with that long protuberance.

Long-billed curlew nests are simple scrapes in the ground lined with pebbles, grass, bark or animal droppings. Nests are often built near objects like rocks, dirt piles or animal dung, which provide shade, camouflage and location landmarks. Both parents incubate the buff eggs speckled with lavender or greenish brown and care for the hatchlings. At least they both care for the babies for about two or three weeks. At that time the female abandons the nest and her family and leaves the male as a single parent. Apparently the male does not resent the desertion because he often mates with the same female the following year. The chicks hatch covered in down with their eyes open. After five hours the hatchlings leave the nest and can search for their own food after about ten hours.

Leonard and I found eggs which had already hatched, but we have yet to glimpse a baby curlew.

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One Response to Long-billed Curlew

  1. Pingback: Long-billed Curlew Youngster | The Nature Niche

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