Long-billled Curlew

Bird of the Month: Long-billed Curlew

By Hugh Jennings

PC: Mick Thompson (Long-billed Curlew)

PC: Mick Thompson (Long-billed Curlew)

Scientific Name: Numenius americanus

Length 23 in

Wingspan 35 in

Weight 1.3 lb

AOU Band code LBCU

The Long-billed Curlew (LBCU) is about 23” with a wingspan of 35” and a weight of 1.3 lb. (590kg). The genus name Numenius (new-MEANihus)is Latin from the Greek noumenios, meaning the new moon:  curve of bill likened to a new crescent moon. The species name americanus is Latin for America. 

The LBCU’s bill is very long, more than half the length of its body. The female’s bill is much longer than the male’s. The crown is finely streaked with brown and the neck and underparts have a cinnamon color. The under wings are also cinnamon colored and distinctive in flight. At a distance when the bill shape and size are not apparent, the LBCU can be confused with Marbled Godwits and Whimbrels.  In summer they are found on grasslandsof the Western U.S. They winter on coastal grasslands, fields and mudflats. In Washington state the LBCU is uncommon in spring and early summer in the Columbia Basin grasslands and farm fields. It winters at Tokeland, occasionally at Bill’s Spit at Ocean Shores and is rare elsewhere.  Most of them migrate to California and Mexico.

On breeding areas the display flights consist of roller coaster patterns of fluttering flight going up and gliding down. The call is a loud, distinctive cur-lee cur-lee cur-lee. The long bill probes the mud for crabs and other invertebrates. In grasslands it feeds on grasshoppers, beetles, insects and even eggs of other birds. The nest is located on prairies, meadowlands or short grasslands. The nest is a slight hollow, lined with weeds, grasses and cow manure chips. Both adults incubate the four white to buff or olive eggs with brown marks for 27-30 days. The young fledge in 32-45 days. The future of LBCUs is dependent on maintaining the grasslands which are important to their lives.