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Long-billed Curlew
Numenius americanus

Long-billed Curlew
Long-billed Curlew

    Long Tenure - Long-billed Curlew
  • Largest sandpiper in the world.
  • Length: 50 cm; wingspan: 1 metre.
  • Distinctive, down-curved bill is 19 cm long.
  • Plumage is sandy brown with cinnamon-coloured underwings visible during flight.


British Columbia Blue List

Special Significance

It is believed that there are only a few hundred breeding pairs of Long-billed Curlews in British Columbia. Prior to legal protection in early 1900s, Long-billed Curlews were decimated by hunters in eastern North America, and were eliminated from many parts of their range by expansion of agriculture on the plains and prairies in the 1930s. The Long-billed Curlew has already disappeared from most parts of eastern Canada and United States. Landowners can help curlews by avoiding known nest sites and delaying harvesting of agricultural fields until late June when the breeding season is over.


  • In British Columbia, curlews breed in the Southern Interior; primary breeding areas are the open grasslands from Williams Lake west through Alexis Creek, in the Okanagan and lower Similkameen valleys, in the East Kootenay Trench, in the Nicola Valley and near Kamloops; a few pairs breed north along the North Thompson River to Clearwater and along the Fraser River near McBride.
  • Curlews appear sporadically on the south coast during migration, but most reach the coast only on the wintering grounds in California and Mexico.
  • Restricted to elevations below 1220 metres, although breeding grounds are generally below 600 metres.


  • Curlews frequent grassy terrain, newly-ploughed fields, green hayfields, meadows and pastures; birds do not have to be near water.
  • Nest in open dry grasslands or grain fields with short vegetation (less than 30 cm high). Nests are depressions in the ground, usually lined with grasses, bits of cow dung or a few twigs.
  • Seepage areas, hayfields and irrigated fields are used for foraging and rearing young.


  • Curlews arrive in late March to mid-April; birds are seldom seen in the Okanagan after mid-July.
  • Male attracts female with elaborate undulating flight displays around the perimeter of their territory; the pair defends a territory of 15 - 24 hectares in size.
  • Female lays 3 - 5 eggs in mid-April to early June; eggs are incubated for 20 days and most young fledge by mid-July.
  • Young are able to run around within hours of hatching; the nest is abandoned within 24 hours.

Food Habits

  • Curlews are omnivorous birds that eat insects, worms, crustaceans, mollusks, toads, eggs and nestlings of other birds, and berries.
  • Curlews probe deep with their bills into burrows of insects and other small creatures; they also pick small invertebrates from the soil and vegetation.

Interesting Facts

  • Curlews got their name from their unmistakable call, "curleeuu, curleeuu, curleeuu. "
  • When danger approaches, parents sound an alarm call telling chicks to "freeze" and hide; parents and neighbouring birds dive from skies to drive intruders off.
  • To avoid detection when threatened on the nest, curlews lie flat on the ground with their necks stretched out.
  • When resting, curlews point their heads into the wind.
  • Pairs sometimes share their nest with another female.


  • Habitat loss due to agriculture and urban development.
  • Sensitivity to human disturbance.
  • Off-road vehicle use in or near nesting habitat.

Management Considerations

  • Protect and maintain suitable habitat such as open, dry grasslands with short vegetation.
  • Protect known breeding sites from human disturbance.
  • Delay harvesting of hayfields until after the bird's nesting season ends in mid-June.
  • Avoid driving off-road vehicles through possible nesting locations.
  • Contact your local British Columbia Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection if a nest is located.


1. Campbell, R.W., N. K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. Cooper, G. Kaiser and M.C. McNall. 1990. Birds of British Columbia: Volume 2. Royal British Columbia Museum,Victoria, BC.
2. Cannings, R.A., R.J. Cannings and S.G. Cannings. 1987. Birds of the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC.


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