Long-billed curlew walking along a shore
Long-billed Curlew Long-billed Curlew. The Mad Island Marsh Preserve protects 7,063 acres, including rare tallgrass coastal prairies. © Karine Aigner

Stories in Kansas

Long-billed Curlew

July 2018 Shorebird of the Month

Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

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Long-billed curlews are a boom or bust bird for Cheyenne Bottoms. Most years, none are recorded but when they are observed there are a few dozen. For me, it's still a rare find, and I can remember the exact locations of the long-billed curlews I have seen here.

Fun Facts

Big Shot: Long-billed curlews are the largest shorebird species in North America. Average body length approaches 2 feet.

Early bird gets the worm? The distinctive curlew bill is well-suited for burrowing out earthworms in pastures. And the timing of migration for long-billed curlews is a bit earlier than other shorebirds. While those two details are likely unrelated, they still make this bird distinctive

Charcoal drawing of a long-billed curlew
Long-billed curlew (Numenius americanus) With body length approaching 2 feet, long-billed curlews are the largest shorebird species in North America. © Robert Penner/TNC

HABITAT & RANGE

Long-billed curlew (Numenius americanus) is another shorebird that seeks out the prairie. They prefer short vegetation so they can observe their surroundings for some distance and avoid predators. When not breeding, long-billed curlews will feed in mudflats and on beaches. These large shorebirds (about the size of a crow) spend the summer breeding season in the west, from south-western Canada down to New Mexico. They then migrate south to coastal areas in California and Texas and most of Mexico and Central America for the winter.

CONSERVATION STATUS

That depends on who you ask. Some conservation lists (like the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) rank long-billed curlews at low or least concern because their range is so large.  However, the species population has declined in recent years. As grasslands disappear, so does suitable habitat for long-billed curlews. Climate change models project significant decreases in habitat by mid-century. The U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan lists long-billed curlew as Highly Imperiled.

Watch a video about ongoing curlew research at The Nature Conservancy's Flat Ranch Preserve in Idaho.

CHEYENNE BOTTOMS STATUS

Very rare migrant. You might see long-billed curlews at Cheyenne Bottoms in the spring from late March into late May (most sightings mid-to-late-April) or again mid-July through September. Since they prefer grasslands, look for them on The Nature Conservancy's Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve rather than at the State Wildlife Area.

 

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Robert Penner stands with crossed arms, looking to his left and laughing.

Rob has worked as The Nature Conservancy’s Cheyenne Bottoms Preserve Manager for 22 years, increasing habitat for migrating shorebirds and nesting grassland birds at the world-renowned wetland.

More About Robert Penner, PhD