BIRDS OF SAGE AND SCREE
Copyright © 2010 Greg McHuron & Bert Raynes. All rights reserved.
A two-foot bird with a three-foot wingspan, an outlandish down-curved, sickle-shaped bill, flashing dark cinnamon under wings and piercing cries commands attention.
Long-billed curlews are shorebirds that prefer to breed on dry open prairies in their remaining habitat in the interior American West, albeit often close to a pond or watercourse. Even in winter -- although many long-billed curlews migrate to seashores, salt marshes and mudflats -- most prefer fields and prairie.
Despite the long-billed curlew's large size (it is the largest of North American shorebirds), its overall yellowish-brown plumage helps camouflage the bird even when in open terrain. Detection, however, is at times easy; long-billed curlews are noisy birds. Their calls are variously interpreted as piercing, plaintive, musical, fluting, delightful. Always loud.
A characteristic rising and falling curl-e-e-e-u-u- call note has suggested its common name. There's also a rapid kU-U-U-U and a rising cur-lee.
The long-billed curlew reaches a height of two feet on dark legs and sports a long, thin, down-curved bill that is dark at its droplet-shaped tip, shading to a flesh tone at its base. This crescent-shaped bill can be eight inches long.