Species Profile

Long-billed Curlew

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


Go to advanced search

Quick Links: | Taxonomy | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew Photo 1

Top

Taxonomy

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.

Top

Description

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.

Top

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.

Top

Habitat

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.

Top

Biology

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.

Top

Threats

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.

Top

Protection

Federal Protection

More 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

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

Top

Documents

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

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Long-billed Curlew (2002)

    Designated Special Concern in April 1992. Status re-examined and confirmed as Special Concern in November 2002. Last assessment based on an update status report.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Long-billed Curlew (2011)

    In Canada, this large shorebird breeds in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Limited survey evidence suggests that the population has not changed significantly over the last 10 years, but there is anecdotal evidence suggesting regional declines. Historically, the extent and quality of its habitat has been significantly reduced by the conversion of native grasslands to agricultural crops and urban development. Ongoing threats include i) habitat loss and degradation from urban encroachment, cultivation of marginal native habitat and oil and gas development, ii) increased frequency of droughts associated with climate change, and iii) increase in predators associated with habitat fragmentation.
  • Response Statements - Long-billed Curlew (2004)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Grasslands National Park of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park of Canada (GNP). The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur at this site. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at GNP.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) in Canada (2013)

    The Long-billed Curlew was listed as a species of Special Concern on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act in 2005. The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent ministers for the management of the Long-billed Curlew and have prepared this plan, as per section 65 of SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (2004)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (2005)

    Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is amended by Order of the Governor in Council (GIC), on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, by the addition of 73 species. This Order is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and follows consultations with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the public, and analysis of costs and benefits to Canadians.

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.
  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2010 - 2011 (2011)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to “assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species”. COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings during the past year assessing the status or reviewing the classification of a total of 92 wildlife species.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: March 2004 (2004)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.