This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the long-billed curlew.
Last week, one of our local birders spotted three of these amazing birds here taking a break on their migratory journey. Long-billed curlews spend the winter in Mexico or in parts of California, and in spring head to their breeding grounds in short-grass prairies of western North America. Although they are classified as North America’s largest shorebird, they are more commonly found in prairie habitats.
The genus name of these birds, numenius, is derived from the Greek word meaning “of the crescent moon,” a reference to the shape of their long, down-curved bills. Long legs support a large, football-shaped body, speckled and barred in brown tones with a cinnamon wash. Sexes look alike, although the female’s beak is longer and more curved at the end.
On beaches, these curlews use their long bills to probe into the sand deeper than any other species to uncover burrowing crabs and shrimp. In prairie habitats, they often forage together side by side using their bills to capture the insects and spiders that they flush. On prairie breeding grounds, their cryptic coloring serves to camouflage their nest sites.
Both parents alternate taking 12-hour incubation shifts on the nest, but within two to three weeks after eggs hatch, the female leaves and parenting is left to Dad.
Like most grassland birds, habitat loss poses a major threat to long-billed curlews. Conservation groups are reaching across borders to improve livestock grazing practices and make grasslands better for cattle and better for birds.
When our Audubon chapter can resume group activities, they will be posted on our website, www.weminucheaudubon.org or at www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.