Species and Plant Community
Accounts for Identified Wildlife

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Birds - Shorebirds

LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)


The long-billed curlew is BLUE-listed because it has a restricted breeding distribution and small population size (likely only several hundred pairs), and is probably declining as a result of habitat loss through agricultural development, urbanization and forest encroachment. Populations may be increasing locally in the east Kootenay. It is designated by COSEWIC as VULNERABLE in Canada.


The long-billed curlew is the largest shorebird in B.C. It is a grassland bird, with sandy brown plumage, long legs, and long decurved bill for capturing insect prey. It nests in dry, open grasslands with low profile vegetation, including severely grazed areas. Nests are shallow scrapes on the ground, often placed beside an object like a stone or pile of animal dung. Incubating birds depend on their cryptic plumage to camouflage their presence. The breeding season extends from late March through late July. Broods are moved to moister sites where young chicks can forage on smaller, more abundant insects. Primary nest predators include coyote, red fox, badger, magpie, raven, feral dogs, great horned owl and gopher snakes. Breeding pairs return year after year to traditional nesting sites. Nesting territory is highly variable in size throughout North America (i.e., 29-833 ha).


Ecoprovinces: Ecosections

Biogeoclimatic units

Breeding range

The long-billed curlew breeds in southern interior B.C., in open grassy uplands, from
280-1220 m in elevation. Primary breeding areas are the open grasslands a) from Williams Lake west through Alexis Creek, b) in the Okanagan and lower Similkameen valleys, c) in the East Kootenay Trench, d) in the Nicola valley and e) near Kamloops. A few pairs breed north along the North Thompson River towards McBride and north of Williams Lake to Quesnel. Records outside the periphery of its breeding range suggest that it may breed over a slightly larger range than currently documented. Breeding does not occur on the coast.

Nonbreeding range

Nonbreeding birds are widely distributed through the south-central interior, north to the Nechako lowlands. This shorebird appears sporadically on the south coast during spring and autumn migration, where it is restricted to estuaries, mudflats, airports or other open grassy areas.

Wintering and migration

The long-billed curlew winters on the coastal lowlands of California and the Gulf States, in the coastal lagoons of western Mexico and south to Venezuela. Early spring migrants appear from late March through early April during most years. In the Okanagan valley, most birds depart after late July.

Habitat requirements

Broad ecosystem units

Structural stage

2: herb - (Low vegetation (<30 cm) grassland or rangeland required for nesting.)

Critical habitats and habitat features

The long-billed curlew needs large contiguous openings of native grassland with a low vegetative profile for nesting. Openings used for nesting should be at least 250 m wide, and preferably wider. Disturbance from humans or livestock should be limited during the breeding season.

The long-billed curlew will rarely nest in seeded pastures, although they will use that habitat for other activities. Use of new crested wheatgrass seedings has been documented in B.C., where a high proportion of native plant species were still present and the vegetative profile was low. Even if grazed to maintain a low profile, however, such seedings may not continue to support the species.

Selected references

Allen, J.N. 1980. The ecology and behaviour of the long-billed curlew in southeastern
Washington. Wildl. Monogr. No. 73. 67 pp.

Bicak, T.K., R.L. Redmond and D.A. Jenni. 1982. Effects of grazing on long-billed
curlew breeding behaviour and ecology in southwestern Idaho. In Proc. symp. on wildlife livestock relationships. J.M. Peek and P.D. Dalke (eds.). Univ. Idaho, For., Wildl. and Range Exp. Sta., Moscow, ID. pp. 74-85.

Bock, C.E., V.A. Saab, T.D. Rich and D.S. Dobkin. 1992. Effects of livestock grazing on
neotropical migratory landbirds in Western North America. USDA For. Serv.,
Rocky Mtn For. Range Exp. Sta., Fort Collins, CO.

De Smet, K.D. 1992. Status report on the long-billed curlew (Numenius americanus)
in Canada. Dep. Nat. Resour., Winnipeg, MB.

Fraser, D.F., T. Hooper and L.R. Ramsay. 1991. Preliminary species management plan for long-billed curlew in British Columbia. B.C. Min. Environ., Wildl. Br., Victoria, B.C.

Hooper, T.D. and M.D. Pitt. [1994]. Breeding bird communities and habitat associations
in the grasslands of the Chilcotin region, British Columbia. Environ. Can, Can. For. Serv., B.C. Min. For., Victoria, B.C. FRDA Rep. (in prep).

Jenni, D.A., R.L. Redmond and T.K. Bicak. 1982. Behavioural ecology and habitat
relationships of long-billed curlews in western Idaho. Report to the Bureau of Land Management, Boise, ID.

Ohanjanian, I.A. 1985. The long-billed curlew, Numenius americanus, on
Skookumchuck Prairie - status report and enhancement plan. B.C. Min. Environ., Lands and Parks, Wildl. Br., Cranbrook, B.C.

_____. 1987. Status report and management recommendations for the long-billed curlew
(Numenius americanus) on the junction. B.C. Min. Environ. Lands and Parks, Wildl. Br., Caribou-Chilcotin Region, B.C.

_____. 1992. Numbers, distribution and habitat dynamics of long-billed curlews in the
East Kootenay. B.C. Min. Environ., Wildl. Br., Cranbrook, B.C.

Pampush, G.J. 1980. Status report on the long-billed curlew in the Columbia and
Northern Great Basins. U.S. Fish and Wildl. Serv., Portland, OR.

Resource Inventory Committee. [In prep]. Standardized inventory methodologies for
components of biodiversity in British Columbia: Shorebirds. B.C. Min. Environ., Lands and Parks, Wildl. Br., Victoria, B.C.

Reynolds, T.D. and C.H. Trost. 1980. The response of native vertebrate populations to
crested wheatgrass planting and grazing by sheep. J. Range Manage. 33:122-125.

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