Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Long-billed Curlew

Like other birders and banders, I haven't been seeing much for the past week.  I have banded no birds for the past three days. Perhaps we are being fooled by our lovely April weather.  The migrants, however, seem to know better than to return to Minnesota before May.  I checked my records from last year and found that banding did not pick up until the first of May. The plant store assures us that the average last frost for the Twin Cities is in mid-May!

So I find my thoughts drifting to Long-billed Curlews.  When we taught outdoor education classes, we introduced our students to predictive morphology.  By knowing the shape of a bird's bill, you might be able to predict its feeding habits.  The longer the bill, especially among shorebirds, the deeper it should probe.  The Long-billed Curlew does, indeed, probe deeply in the ocean mudflats where it winters.
But what does it do with that bill where it breeds in dry Mid-West?  From my reading, I do not think too much is known about their summer food habits.  My colleague Doug Backlund of South Dakota discovered that Long-billed Curlews insert their bills down wolf spider burrows in search of juicy arachnids.  Here is a link to an interesting website that Doug made (  I also read that Long-billed Curlews use their bills to flip cow pies in order to expose  invertebrate prey!
For that matter, what do sleeping Long-billed Curlews do with all that bill?  Above is a curlew, sound asleep, balanced on one leg.  Its bill is nestled in there somewhere!  Both photos are from Morro Bay, California.

The probing and cow pie information is from: Dugger, Bruce D. and Katie M. Dugger. 2002. Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

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