Long-billed Curlew

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Common Name: Long-billed Curlew
Scientific Name: Numenius americanus

Size: 19 ¾ - 25. ½ inches (50-65 cm)

Habitat: North America; native to central and western prairie regions of the Canada and the United States. In the winter, the species migrates southwards, as well as towards the coastline, end up in the southern USA and Mexico, with birds occurring irregularly in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica. Breeding habitat is grasslands in west-central North America.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 50,000-123,000 with a decreasing trend. The population was significantly reduced at the end of the 19th century by hunting. Numbers have rebounded somewhat in more recent times. It was formerly classified as a Near Threatened species by the IUCN, but new research has confirmed that the Long-billed Curlew is again common and widespread. Consequently, it is downlisted to Least Concern status in 2008. New threats are constant. Sea-level rise may reduce the amount of available intertidal wintering habitat in future, while the loss and conversion of large areas of short grass prairie into agricultural land within its range has presumably had a major impact upon the species and is likely to the most important threat at present. Long-billed Curlew are facing increasing threats in the grasslands and prairies of North America, both on their breeding and wintering grounds. In addition, Long-billed Curlew range contractions on the eastern edge of their range continue to cause concerns. It is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in the US.

Diet: Crabs and various other small invertebrates, grasshoppers, beetles and other insects. This bird has occasionally been known to eat the eggs of other birds. It probes the mud using its long bill foraging for suitable food, usually feeding in flocks.

Nesting: This species exhibits sexual dimorphism, 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.

The species displays an elaborate courtship dance during breeding season. Fast and looping display flights are also common. A small hollow is lined with various weeds and grasses to serve as the nest. Ordinarily, four eggs are laid. The eggs vary in hue from white to olive. The Long-billed Curlew is a precocial bird, and the chicks leave the nest soon after hatching. 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.

Cool Facts: This species was also called "sicklebird" and the "candlestick bird". Candlestick Point in San Francisco was named after this indigenous bird, and subsequently Candlestick Park stadium inherited the name. Ironically, the species had dramatically declined in the San Francisco area by the early 20th century already, being "practically extinct" in San Mateo County in 1916. By the time the stadium was constructed in the 1950s, the last remnants of the flocks of "candlestick birds" - which formerly numbered in the thousands - were being slaughtered by hunters until, at least temporarily, none were left.

Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume 3: Small Waders

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