Long-billed Curlew

Standing more than a foot tall, the Long-billed Curlew is North America's largest shorebird.
Photo: Blake Matheson

Standing more than a foot tall, the Long-billed Curlew is North America’s largest shorebird, and is easily recognized by its long and decurved bill. Curlews breed in grassland habitats of the prairies and the intermountain West, and winter along the Pacific coast and at interior sites in California and Mexico. In California, Long-billed Curlews breed only in the northeastern counties of Siskiyou, Modoc, Lassen, and Plumas but winter all along the California coast, Central Valley, and the Imperial Valley. The Central Valley alone supports more than 20,000 wintering curlews. 

Long-billed Curlew populations have declined substantially over the past 150 years. Although a number of factors have contributed to this decline, habitat loss and degradation has been, and continues to be, a major factor. Curlews no longer occur in the eastern prairies, where the conversion of native grasslands to row crop agriculture led to huge losses in grassland breeding habitat. 

Yet, in much of California, Long-billed Curlews now rely on working agricultural lands for breeding and foraging habitat. In northeastern California, curlews breed in wet meadows, pastureland, hayfields, and alfalfa, and during the winter curlews inhabit a wide variety of agricultural lands in the Central and Imperial Valleys, including alfalfa, pastureland, rice and other row crops. Audubon California works closely with farmers to provide additional surrogate habitat for these terrific birds. 

More recently, concerns have been raised about the impact of global warming on the Long-billed Curlew. Research has indicated that the species could lose roughly 60% of its climate suitability range in California.

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