LONG-BILLED CURLEW: Bird of Isolated, Moist Meadows

By Dave Hanks

I hear her agitated, desperate call over my head! We have been driving along a back country road of Cassia County in the outer spots of cattle country. The road is parallel to pastureland. Looking overhead, I see the object of all the excitement. It’s a large bird with ample wing span. Unknowingly, we have violated her nesting territory. This bird’s name resembles its call – “curlee, curlee..” It is loud and somewhat musical. The bird can become wildly excited when something is close to the nest.

The Long-Billed Curlew is large, about 23 inches long, and has a cinnamon-brown body above with a streaked, buff-colored underside. Both sexes are large, but the female is the larger. But besides their large size, it is the long, down-curved beak that is most noticeable. It’s an adaptation useful to probe for beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and other invertebrate organisms lurking in meadowlands and marshes.

They nest on the ground in a hollow that is close to rocks or bushes. Four eggs are laid which take a month to incubate. The chicks are precocial and the mother stays with them for two to three weeks. At that time she abandons them, and the male finishes the rearing of their offspring. Despite her departure, she will again pair up with the same male the next year.

In winter, they migrate to coastal and lake beaches. At this time they will flock and fly in formation. When we have been in California during January/February, we have seen this bird along the Pacific Ocean coast line going about the daily chore of catching shrimp and crabs.

For those of us that love birds, Numenius americanus is a treat to behold.

(Hunting prey in a meadow, south of Burns, Oregon)