Photo: Kathy Lichtendahl/Audubon Photography Awards

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
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.
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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 Will Reshape the Range of the Long-billed Curlew

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

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.

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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