WatchList Species Account for Long-billed Curlew
(Numenius americanus)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species


Long-billed Curlew

The Long-billed Curlew is a breeding endemic in the short-grass and mixed-grass habitats of the Great Plains and Great Basin of the western U.S. and southwestern Canada. Within this range it prefers open, sparse grassland and avoids habitats with trees, shrubs and tall grass.


Relative to other shorebirds, the Long-billed Curlew is a short-distance migrant, wintering inland and along the coast primarily in California, Texas, and Louisiana, and along the coasts of Mexico, with birds occasionally seen in the interior.


Its preferred habitat along the Pacific Coast includes tidal estuaries, wet pastures and sandy beaches, though it is relatively uncommon in the latter. In the Central Valley of California it winters in rice fields, sewage ponds, managed wetlands and grassland.


The Long-billed Curlew formerly also bred in the Upper Midwest in Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota south to coastal Texas, and wintered along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts southward, but these populations were extirpated through habitat loss and hunting before 1900. Its total population is estimated at 20,000.


At present Breeding Bird Surveys show populations in the Great Plains are declining while increasing west of the Rocky Mountains. The principal threat to the species is loss of habitat; grasslands are increasingly being taken over for agriculture, residential developments, and recreational use. Non-native plants can degrade habitat until it is no longer suitable.


Much of bird's wintering habitat in the Central Valley has been lost to agriculture and urban growth, and much of the intertidal habitat in San Francisco Bay has also been lost.


Habitats that are grazed during the spring are favorable to the bird, and periodic burning also improves breeding habitat. Post-harvest flooding of rice fields also benefits the bird. The curlew’s small population and disappearing breeding and wintering habitat make it a high-priority species for conservation.