Bird GuideSandpipersLong-billed Curlew

At a Glance

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.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Florida, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Flap/Glide, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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


23" (58 cm). A very large sandpiper with a remarkably long curved bill (length varies; some are not so extreme). Warmer brown than Whimbrel, and lacks strong head stripes. In flight, shows bright cinnamon in wings.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Brown, Red, Tan
Wing Shape
Broad, Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A clear curleee; a sharp whit-whit, whit, whit, whit, whit.
Call Pattern
Flat, Rising
Call Type


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.



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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

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.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Long-billed Curlew. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Long-billed Curlew

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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