Long Billed Curlew: Understanding its Habitat and Behavior

Parker Nelson

a group of birds standing on top of a sandy beach

With its striking long, curved bill, the Long-billed Curlew stands as North America’s largest shorebird. This bird, known scientifically as Numenius americanus, has captured the attention of many bird watchers and nature lovers. Found mainly in prairies and grasslands, the Long-billed Curlew is often spotted away from the shore, contrasting with most other shorebirds.

Its unique bill helps it feed on insects and crustaceans deep in the ground, adapting to various environments. The bird has a cinnamon-colored neck and a brown crown, adding to its distinctive identity. These attributes make it easy to identify in its natural habitat.

Conservation efforts are crucial as the Long-billed Curlew’s population faces threats from habitat loss. Understanding its habitat and behavior can aid in protecting this remarkable bird. Knowing how to identify and support the Long-billed Curlew helps in preserving its presence in North America’s ecosystem.

Key Takeaways

  • The Long-billed Curlew is North America’s largest shorebird.
  • Its long, curved bill helps it find food deep in the ground.
  • Conservation is essential due to habitat loss.

Biology and Ecology

The Long-billed Curlew, also known as Numenius americanus, is an intriguing bird. It has unique features and behaviors that help it survive in its varied habitats.

Physical Characteristics

The Long-billed Curlew is the largest shorebird in North America. It can be recognized by its very long, curved bill, which is especially pronounced in females. This bill helps it to reach deep into the sand and mud in search of food. The bird’s body is speckled with a cinnamon wash, and its long neck is noticeable.


  • Weight: 1-2 pounds (490-950 grams)
  • Wingspan: 24.4 to 35 inches (62-89 cm)
  • Height: about 2 feet (61 cm)

Habitat and Distribution

Long-billed Curlews breed in the grasslands of the Great Plains and the Great Basin. They are often found in prairies and shrub-dominated areas. In winter, they migrate to coastal regions, tidal estuaries, and wetlands. They can be seen as far south as Mexico, where they spend the colder months.

Their choice of breeding and wintering grounds is vital for their life history. Young curlews need open spaces to forage and avoid predators.

Feeding Behavior

Curlews have a unique way of finding their food. They use their long bills to probe into mud and sand to catch aquatic invertebrates like crabs, beetles, grasshoppers, and earthworms. On breeding grounds, they also hunt grasshoppers and other small insects.

Their diet shifts depending on the season and location. For instance, during winter, they find more marine organisms.


The breeding season for Long-billed Curlews begins in spring. They nest on the ground in scraped depressions, sometimes lining these with grass and leaves. They lay about 3-5 eggs. Incubation lasts around a month, and both parents take turns keeping the eggs warm.

Once hatched, young curlews leave the nest within a few hours. They are precocial birds, meaning they are relatively mature and mobile soon after hatching.

This intricate balance of physical traits, habitat choice, feeding, and reproductive strategies illustrates the fascinating adaptation of Long-billed Curlews to their environments.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Long-billed Curlew is a large, long-legged shorebird known for its distinctively long, curved bill. It exhibits unique migration patterns and has a diverse diet. Below are answers to common questions about this fascinating bird.

What is the typical migration pattern of the Long-billed Curlew?

The Long-billed Curlew breeds in the grasslands of the Great Plains and Great Basin. During winter, it migrates to coastal mudflats and sandy areas. Some birds may also inhabit prairies during migration.

How extensive is the range of the Long-billed Curlew?

The Long-billed Curlew can be found in North America’s western regions. It breeds in the Great Plains and Great Basin and winters along the coastlines, stretching from the United States to Mexico.

What does the call of the Long-billed Curlew sound like?

The call of the Long-billed Curlew is a loud, melodious whistle. It often sounds like “cur-lee” or “curlew,” which is distinctive among shorebirds and can be heard from a distance.

What does the Long-billed Curlew symbolize in various cultures?

In some Native American cultures, the Long-billed Curlew symbolizes peace and beauty. Its graceful appearance and unique call are often celebrated in stories and art.

What is the diet of the Long-billed Curlew?

The Long-billed Curlew feeds on aquatic invertebrates during winter. On breeding grounds, it eats grasshoppers, beetles, and sometimes small mammals. Its long bill helps it probe deep into mud and sand.

How can one differentiate between a Whimbrel and a Long-billed Curlew?

The Long-billed Curlew has a much longer, more curved bill compared to the Whimbrel. The Curlew’s overall plumage is buffy with brighter cinnamon wings, while the Whimbrel has a more streaked appearance and a shorter bill.