Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)

The Long-billed Curlew, Numenius americanus, is a large North American shorebird of the family Scolopacidae. This species was also called “sicklebird” and the “candlestick bird”.

Long-billed Curlew, Numenius americanus feeding

Long-billed Curlew

Distribution / Range

The species is native to central and western North America.

In the winter, the species migrates southwards, as well as towards the coastline.

Appearance

Adults have a very long bill curved downwards, a long neck and a small head. The neck and underparts are a light cinnamon, while the crown is streaked with brown.

This species exhibits sexual dimorphism, the female having a much longer bill than the male.

Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)

Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) landing

Breeding

Their breeding habitat is grasslands in west-central North America.

The species displays an elaborate courtship dance during breeding season. Fast and looping display flights are also common.

A small hollow is lined with various weeds and grasses to serve as the nest. Ordinarily, four eggs are laid. The eggs vary in hue from white to olive.

The Long-billed Curlew is a precocial bird, and the chicks leave the nest soon after hatching. Both parents look after the young.

Long-billed Curlew

Feeding

The bird usually feeds in flocks. Using its long bill, it probes the mud near its habitat, foraging for suitable food.

The usual food consists of crabs and various other small invertebrates. The species also feeds on grasshoppers, beetles and other insects.

This bird has occasionally been known to eat the eggs of other birds.

Conservation Status

The population was significantly reduced at the end of the 19th century by hunting. Numbers have rebounded somewhat in more recent times. It was formerly classified as a Near Threatened species by the IUCN, but new research has confirmed that the Long-billed Curlew is again common and widespread.

Consequently, it is downlisted to Least Concern status in 2008.

Candlestick Point in San Francisco was named after this indigenous bird, and subsequently Candlestick Park stadium inherited the name.

Ironically, the species had dramatically declined in the San Francisco area by the early 20th century already, being “practically extinct” in San Mateo County in 1916.

By the time the stadium was constructed in the 1950s, the last remnants of the flocks of “candlestick birds” – which formerly numbered in the thousands – were being slaughtered by hunters until, at least temporarily, none were left.

Long-billed Curlew, Numenius americanus
Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)

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