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Long-billed Curlew, Numenius americanus

Long-billed curlew on a rocky river shore

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Long-billed Curlews are a large shorebird species found in North America. They are known for their long, slender, curved bill, which they use to probe the ground searching for their prey. Their bills are adapted for reaching deep into the soil and extracting hidden invertebrates.

In the spring, they nest in the grasslands and prairies of western North America, including parts of the United States and Canada. The males engage in elaborate displays to attract females. The courtship displays often involve aerial acrobatics, loud calls, and dancing. Males will fly high into the air, perform dives, and show off their impressive bill and plumage to impress potential mates.

Long-billed Curlews nest in a variety of habitats, including native grasslands, prairies, and sometimes agricultural fields. They prefer nesting in open areas with good visibility to detect potential threats. The nests are shallow depressions in the ground, lined with grasses, leaves, and other plant materials.

Females lay3 to 5 eggs. The eggs are usually speckled and blend well with the surrounding ground, providing some camouflage from predators. The female incubates the eggs for about 27 to 30 days until they hatch. During this incubation period, the male may help by standing guard or occasionally taking over incubation duties to allow the female to feed.

After the eggs hatch, both parents care for the chicks. The chicks are relatively well-developed at birth and can move around shortly after hatching. They have downy feathers and are able to walk and feed themselves to some extent.

From the moment they hatch, long-billed curlew chicks begin learning to forage by observing and imitating their parents. They follow their mother or both parents around as they search for food. With their long, curved bills, they poke and probe into the sand or mud to find prey gradually improving their skills as they gain more experience..

As the curlew chicks grow, their activities become more varied. They engage in behaviors like preening, dust bathing, and social interactions with siblings. They also gradually explore their surroundings more independently, though they still rely on their parents for protection and guidance.

The chicks fledge, or leave the nest, around 25 to 30 days after hatching. Once they can fly, they become less vulnerable to ground predators. However, during their early stages of life, Long-billed Curlew chicks face various threats from hawks, ravens, foxes, raccoons, and skunks, as well as domestic and feral cats.

Gradually, they become more independent, and as they continue to grow and gain experience, they become fully capable long-billed curlews, contributing to the population’s health and reproduction.

In the fall, as the breeding season ends and temperatures drop, Long-billed Curlews undertake a long-distance migration to coastal areas and estuaries in Mexico, Central America, and some parts of the southern United States for the winter. They often inhabit mudflats, tidal marshes, and sandy beaches.