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Long-billed curlew on the Conservancy's Flat Ranch Preserve

Thanks to sustainable practices, unlikely prairie habitat serves as a hotspot for nesting shorebirds like the long-billed curlew.

A Long-billed Curlew at the Conservancy's Flat Ranch Nature Preserve in Idaho

On the sweeping grasslands of Eastern Idaho, it seems unlikely that a prairie habitat would serve as a hotspot for nesting shorebirds. But at The Nature Conservancy’s Flat Ranch Preserve, the long-billed curlew makes its home, nurtured by rotational grazing that keeps grass at favorable heights.

With long legs and a down-curved bill, the long-billed curlew is the largest member of the sandpiper family, classified as a shorebird. The curlew is unique in its habitat usage – it is primarily ground-dwelling. 

Curlews thrive in short-grass prairie grasslands, but a loss of their habitat over time has created a significant reduction in bird population. But on the Flat Ranch curlew numbers have stayed high - the ranch has one of the highest populations of nesting and brooding long-billed curlew in Idaho, thanks partly to sustainable methods of agriculture that promote their beneficial grassland habitats.

Rotational grazing is an efficient agricultural practice that reduces over and under-grazing by cattle and allows for vegetation to regenerate. Livestock is moved from pasture to pasture in accordance with a pre-determined grazing rotation schedule, limiting the amount of grazing in one spot. Grass is enriched and healthy grasslands encourage a strong environment.

At The Nature Conservancy-owned Flat Ranch Preserve, located just 15 miles west of Yellowstone, we have implemented rotational grazing as a holistic, high intensity, short-duration means of creating important habitat and species diversity in this grassland ecosystem. We lease our land to ranchers, with a cooperative agreement to adhere to the rotational grazing schedule set in place.

Livestock and resident wildlife benefit from a healthier, richer grassland, and the rancher benefits from healthier, plumper cattle. With rotational grazing, grass is kept at an optimal level for the long-billed curlew to nest and brood, sustaining this important and unique species.

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