Friday, May 15, 2015

Montana Birds: Long-billed Curlew

North America's largest shorebird, the Long-billed Curlew breeds in the grasslands of the Great Plains and Great Basin; they winter on the Texas coast, south to interior Mexico, where you can find them in wetlands, tidal estuaries, mudflats, flooded fields, and occasionally beaches.
Both male and female incubate the eggs. and both are aggressive in defense of nests and young. The female typically abandons the brood two to three weeks after hatching and leaves brood care to her mate. Despite the obvious faux pas in domestic relations the pair often mate again next year.

Insects, aquatic crustaceans and invertebrates dominate the diet but the long, curved bill allows allows foraging for deep-burrowing earthworms, shrimp and crabs. The also eat grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, spiders, and occasionally small animals.

The female’s bill is longer than the male's, and a different shape—flatter on top with a more pronounced curve at the tip. The juvenile's bill is distinctly shorter during its first few months, but before the first year ends may equal the male's length.

Curlews appear to be declining on the Great Plains, but  numbers are slightly up in some western areas—the Columbia Plateau and Rocky Mountains. Much more numerous in the 19th century, but numbers fell in response to over-hunting and conversion of grassland breeding habitat to agriculture and development.  Habitat loss and projected effects of climate change will likely precipitate continued population declines.

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