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Long-billed Curlew Numenius americanus


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Long-billed Curlew
credit: Alan D. Wilson/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Scolopacidae, Sandpipers view all from this family

Description ADULT Has mainly warm buff plumage, flushed orange-brown on back, belly, and breast, and particularly noticeable on underwings in flight. Plumage is streaked and spotted on the neck and underparts, and wing and back feathers have dark centers and bars, creating scalloped effect. JUVENILE Similar to adult, but it looks paler overall, particularly on neck, and has appreciably shorter bill.

Dimensions Length: 23" (58 cm)

Habitat Breeds in dry prairie and upland grassland in Great Plains area. Favored habitat has suffered substantial loss and continues to suffer degradation due to farming practices. Consequently, species is vulnerable and declining. On migration, found on arable fields and grassland and in winter mainly associated with mudflats and estuaries, but also coastal freshwater wetlands.

Observation Tips Easiest to see in winter, on coasts, where it feeds in the open and roosts in sizeable flocks.

Range Texas, Southwest, Florida, Plains, Rocky Mountains, California, Northwest, Western Canada, Southeast

Voice Utters a characteristic curlee call and also delivers whistling song on breeding grounds.

Discussion A large shorebird, with an immensely long, downcurved bill, used to probe for mud-dwelling invertebrates in winter, and grassland insects etc. in summer. Its onomatopoeic call is evocative of lonely, upland grasslands in spring and summer, and estuaries and coastal grassland at other times of the year. In flight, all birds reveal rather uniform upperparts, darkest on outer half of wing. Sexes are similar, although males have shorter bills than females.