LONG-BILLED CURLEW – (Numenius americanus)
The Long-billed Curlew is part of the sandpiper family and one of the largest, at around 60 cm (24 in.) long. Just the bill itself measures some 20 cm (8 in.). As for other sandpipers, females are larger than males. The plumage is light brown with streaks and tinges of rust, especially for the under parts. The bill is brown and darker toward the tip, and the legs are grey.
The Latin name of this bird, ‘Numenius’, means ‘new moon’, referencing to the bill shape. The English name ‘Curlew’ stems from a French onomatopoeia ‘corlieu’, in imitation of the bird’s call.
The habitat of this bird is the prairie, where it nests on the ground and feeds from sand crabs, beetles, grasshoppers, earthworms, etc. It uses its long and thin specialized bill to dig out burrowing prey. The survival rate for chicks is low due to high predation from birds, and this in spite of mobbing them.
The long-billed curlew does not breed on PEI, and there have only been hypothetical reports of this bird species so far on the island (summer and fall). This is a bird mainly of the western United States and southern western Canadian provinces for its breeding range. In the winter it will migrate to Mexico and along the coasts of the southern part of the USA and Central America.
Conservation: the long-billed curlew is considered a species of ‘special concern’ by COSEWIC, but no longer by the IUCN, because their numbers have rebounded in the United States. In Canada, the bird is no longer present in Atlantic Canada, where it was hunted. About 100 years ago, this bird was killed for the market and also for sport, as it was an easy target. The main factors for its decline in western Canada now are loss of habitat due to expansion of agriculture, and fragmentation of the remaining habitat. The latter makes the long-billed curlew easier of access by coyotes.