Scientific Name: Numenius americanus
Taxonomy Group: Birds
Range: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan
Last COSEWIC Assessment: May 2011
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern
Image of Long-billed Curlew
There are two subspecies of Numenius americanus in North America. Long-billed Curlews occurring in Canada are smaller and have shorter bills than their southern counterparts. They belong to the subspecies parvus, while the larger subspecies, N. americanus americanus, is found only in the United States.
A large brown sandpiper, the Long-billed Curlew is the largest of the North American shorebirds. Adults range from 51 to 66 cm (including the bill). The extremely long and slender, down-curved bill can be up to 21 cm. Females are generally larger than males and have noticeably longer bills, which can be relatively short in juveniles and some males. Adults and juveniles are a buff colour tinged with cinnamon or pink. The upper parts are streaked with dark brown, while the underparts are a lighter buff. Their feet and long legs are a dull bluish grey. Striking cinnamon under-wings help distinguish the Long-billed Curlew from the shorter-billed and smaller Whimbrel.
Distribution and Population
The core of the winter range of the Long-billed Curlew is in Mexico and the southwestern states of California, Texas, and Louisiana, but they can also be seen in small numbers as far south as Costa Rica, and as far north as North Carolina in the United States. During the breeding season, it can be found from northern Texas eastward to central Nebraska and west to central Oregon and Nevada in the United States. Its range continues northwards into southern Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia in Canada. Long-billed Curlews breed in southwestern Saskatchewan, north as far as Biggar. The eastern extent of their Canadian range lies between Moose Jaw and Regina. They breed throughout southeastern Alberta, bounded in the north by Stettler and in the east by Provost. They are found in the foothills near Calgary and in scattered small populations in central British Columbia south of Prince George. The Canadian population is estimated at 23 500 birds, 19 000 of which are found in Alberta. In Saskatchewan, there are an estimated 4000 birds, while British Columbia has an estimated 500. The number of Long-billed Curlews breeding in Canada has been relatively stable over the last 10 years, although numbers have declined drastically since the beginning of the 20th century, when they were common through to southern Manitoba and fall migrants could be found on the Atlantic coast of Canada.
Long-billed Curlews nest in grassland, primarily native short-grass and mid-grass prairie. The birds show a preference for nesting in irregular clumps where they blend in well, and perhaps can spot approaching predators more easily. Once the eggs have hatched, the curlews seem to prefer taller, more dense grass, possibly because it offers better camouflage for the young and reduces heat stress. Although they are more numerous in native grassland, Long-billed Curlews appear to be able to use some agricultural areas for feeding and raising young. While migrating and on their wintering grounds, curlews prefer shallow inland and coastal waters.
A migratory bird, the Long-billed Curlew arrives in March in British Columbia, and in April in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Birds stay with the same mate for at least one season, and may arrive paired. They have only one clutch each year; after a failed nest, the adults do not normally try again. They typically lay four eggs in their ground nests, which the female incubates by day and the male by night for about a month. Chicks leave the nest within three hours of hatching. The female leaves when they are two to three weeks old, and the male cares for them exclusively until they are about six weeks old. Most curlews have left Canada by mid- to late August. Sexually mature at about three years old, they usually live from 8 to 10 years, but may be able to live much longer. Their long bill is well adapted for extracting earthworms and burrow-dwelling shrimps and crabs. They occasionally eat small amphibians; but during the breeding season, they eat mostly beetles and grasshoppers. A high percentage of their chicks never make it to adulthood, making their reproduction rate low. Their main predators are hawks, owls, Black-billed Magpies, Crows, and Ravens. They will engage in mobbing (a group of birds circling a predator to scold and harass it). Formerly market and sport hunters would take advantage of this behaviour, and many curlews could be killed as they circled above a wounded bird. This occurred especially in Atlantic Canada, where they are no longer found.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Long-billed Curlews were killed for market in large numbers. Sport hunters also killed many as they made easy targets. Cultivation of their native prairie nesting grounds contributed to the early declines as well; it continues to be a problem, now exacerbated by urban encroachment. Remaining grasslands are fragmented and disturbed by industry, livestock overuse, fire control, and the invasion of exotic plants. In British Columbia, habitat loss to vineyards, orchards, ginseng plantations, and urban expansion has been significant, primarily in the Thompson and Okanogan valleys. Forest encroachment into what was once intermontane grassland is also a problem. While habitat loss is now the greatest threat to the Long-billed Curlew, there is also the problem of increasing risk from predators. Habitat fragmentation creates easier access to the curlews for the increasing number of Coyotes and for other predators.
Federal ProtectionMore information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.
The Long-billed Curlew is protected from hunting and collection in Canada under the Migratory Bird Convention Act. Less than 5% of curlew habitat In Canada is considered protected. They are relatively common in Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, and in the Suffield National Wildlife Area in Alberta.
Provincial and Territorial Protection
PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.
11 record(s) found.
- COSEWIC Status Reports (1 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Assessments (1 record(s) found.)
- Response Statements (2 record(s) found.)
- Action Plans (1 record(s) found.)
- Management Plans (1 record(s) found.)
- Orders (2 record(s) found.)
- COSEWIC Annual Reports (2 record(s) found.)
- Consultation Documents (1 record(s) found.)
COSEWIC Status Reports
COSEWIC Annual Reports
COSEWIC Annual Report - 2003 (2003)May 2003 Annual Report to the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
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