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Flight of the Curlew

 

For the second year in a row I’ve been able to sit at my desk in Helena and track the movements of Long-billed curlews from their nesting grounds in Montana, to their winter home in Mexico and back again.   We were all amazed by the incredible journey of one female who flew some 1,200 miles in just 26 hours.  She was one of seven curlews captured in 2009 on the Conservancy’s Matador Ranch and nearby private land and outfitted with a tiny GPS transmitter. Seven more were equipped with transmitters in 2010.

This cooperative effort has been spearheaded by Dr. Nils Warnock of Alaska Audubon, Dr. Gary Page of Point Reyes Observatory and Lee Tibbits with USGS. Through the use of amazing technology, we’ve been able to track the movement of the birds on a daily basis.  Even more amazing than the technology is the unbelievable journeys the curlews make.  Scattered across Mexico and Texas since August, these threatened shore birds began to congregate in the southern plains in mid March.  Within the past three days the moves have been stunning, as birds have begun to move north, traveling some 500 miles a day in a straight line to their home at the Matador.

 One of the most charismatic birds of the northern Great Plains, my admiration for curlews has only increased as we have had the good fortune to get to know them more.  I have been dedicated to conserving the grasslands in the Northern Montana Prairies. Along with our partners, including many of the ranchers who are members of the Matador grassbank, we are improving and expanding habitat for these really charismatic birds.  My sense of responsibility has grown only stronger after witnessing the awe-inspiring migration of curlews. We are fortunate that, through the wonders of modern technology, we now have a small glimpse of the journey that was once witnessed only by their eyes.

 

by Brian Martin, Director of Science, The Nature Conservancy in Montana

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