Photo: Richard Crossley/Vireo

Priority Bird

Long-billed Curlew

Numenius americanus

This incredibly long-billed sandpiper is the largest of our shorebirds; but more often than not, it is seen away from the shore. It spends the summer on the grasslands of the arid west, appearing on coastal mudflats only in migration and winter, and even then likely to be on prairies instead. It often occurs alongside the Marbled Godwit, which is very similar in size and color pattern; but the godwit's bill curves up, not down.
Conservation status Was once much more common and widespread; in the mid-1800s, occurred as a common migrant along much of the Atlantic Coast. Hunting of wild game for market caused a serious decline in this species and other shorebirds in the late 1800s. In more recent decades, has decreased in many parts of its nesting range as grassland has been converted to agriculture.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat High plains, rangeland. In winter, also cultivated land, tideflats, salt marshes. Breeding habitat is mostly native dry grassland and sagebrush prairie; may favor areas with some damp low spots nearby, to provide better feeding area for the young. May nest in pastures that are not too heavily grazed, rarely in agricultural fields. In migration and winter often in farm fields, marshes, coastal mudflats, in addition to grasslands.
This incredibly long-billed sandpiper is the largest of our shorebirds; but more often than not, it is seen away from the shore. It spends the summer on the grasslands of the arid west, appearing on coastal mudflats only in migration and winter, and even then likely to be on prairies instead. It often occurs alongside the Marbled Godwit, which is very similar in size and color pattern; but the godwit's bill curves up, not down.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult, worn plumage
  • adult
  • adult
  • nestling
  • adult with greater and lesser yellowlegs
Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking rather quickly over grassland or mudflats, using long bill to reach ahead and pick up insects or to probe just below the surface of mud or soil. On coastal mudflats, often probes into small burrows for mud crabs, ghost shrimps, and other creatures.


Eggs

4, rarely 3-5. Pale buff to olive-buff, evenly spotted with brown and dark olive. Incubation is by both parents, 27-30 days. Incubating bird may sit motionless on nest even if approached closely. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, often leading them to marshy or damp area for better feeding; young feed themselves. Age of young at first flight varies, 32-45 days.


Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, often leading them to marshy or damp area for better feeding; young feed themselves. Age of young at first flight varies, 32-45 days.

Diet

Mostly insects. On grasslands, feeds mostly on insects, including beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, many others; also eats spiders, toads, and sometimes the eggs and young of other birds. May eat many berries at times. In coastal areas, also eats crabs, crayfish, mollusks, marine worms, other large invertebrates.


Nesting

Male displays over nesting territory with spectacular undulating flight, fluttering higher and then gliding lower, while giving loud ringing calls. Nest site is on ground on open prairie, usually in rather dry surroundings. On mostly featureless terrain, often chooses site close to conspicuous rock, shrub, pile of cow manure, or other object. Nest is shallow scrape in ground, usually with sparse lining of grass, weeds; may have slight rim built up around edge.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Only a short-distance migrant, most wintering in southern United States and northern Mexico.

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Migration

Only a short-distance migrant, most wintering in southern United States and northern Mexico.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A clear curleee; a sharp whit-whit, whit, whit, whit, whit.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Sandpipers Sandpiper-like Birds

Long-billed Curlew

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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California Working Lands

California Working Lands

California’s Central Valley is one of this country’s most important food-producing areas, and a critical habitat for many birds

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