Long-Billed Curlew

Long-Billed Curlew

Sicklebill, Big curlew or Hen curlew

Numenius americanus
Population size
50-123 Thou
Life Span
10 yrs
80.5 km/h
490-950 g
50-65 cm
62-90 cm

This sandpiper with an incredibly long bill is the largest shorebird of the United States; but usually, it is seen some distance from the shore. This bird has to cope with its 8-inch down-curved bill when feeding, drinking, preening, scratching, and flying. It fascinating to watch the curlew as it walks quickly along feeding, showing amazing dexterity while it manipulates its long bill. Unfortunately, this species is threatened with extinction because of the loss of prairie breeding habitats.


Long-billed curlews occur from southwest Canada to the west half of the US. They winter in the States in the south and Guatemala. During the summer they can also be found on the Texas Gulf Coast. During the breeding season these birds prefer prairies or pastures with short grass. After breeding, they head to seashores, lakes, rivers, salt marches or mudflats.

Long-Billed Curlew habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

Long-billed curlews are solitary and diurnal birds. During the breeding season they are often seen foraging for food in pairs, in groups or on their own. Around the nest, however, they are highly territorial and will exhibit a range of threat displays. To fly, these birds jump into the air for take-off and then alternate flapping with gliding. The call they make is a loud “curlee”. They are social birds when migrating and a flock will fly in a “V” shaped formation as geese do.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Long-billed curlews are mainly carnivorous. When in grasslands, this bird eats grasshoppers, crickets and beetles. It also eats small amphibians. In its winter habitat, small crustaceans, mollusks, seeds and berries form its diet.

Mating Habits

mid-April to September
27-30 days
8 weeks
4 eggs

Long-billed curlews are monogamous, breeding with the same mate year after year. The male displays with an undulating flight, calling to the female. The mating season runs from mid-April until September. Nests are depressions on the ground, usually lined with grass, in open flat areas where there are clumps of grass. They are often built near bushes or cow patties to help conceal them from predators. Usually 4 pear-shaped greenish or buff-colored eggs with brown spots are laid, which are incubated by both parents for 27 to 30 days. The parents both defend the nest; usually the female incubates during the day, with the male taking his turn at night. Once the eggs hatch, the mother will stay for about two weeks with the chicks before leaving the male to take care of them. He will stay with them and will feed them mostly insects and berries for 6 weeks until they fledge. After three to four years, reproductive maturity is reached.


Population threats

Numbers were much higher in the 19th century, but fell due to hunting and the conversion to agriculture and housing of this species’ grassland breeding habitat. This is thought to be why now in winter Long-billed curlews are scarce along the Atlantic coast. Habitat loss is the major continuing threat, due to both development and climate change’s projected effects. Pesticide spraying may also harm curlews by reducing their food supply, particularly of grasshoppers.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total Long-billed curlew population is 50,000-123,000 individuals. According to the All About Birds resource, a 2012 study estimated a North American population of the species at about 140,000 birds. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC), but its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Numenius, the genus name for this species, refers to the crescent shape of its bill and is a Greek word.
  • Long-billed curlews are able to swim if necessary, having webbed front toes.
  • The long bill of this bird allows it to reach shrimp and crabs in their deep burrows in the mudflats. The bill’s end is controlled by separate muscles, so it acts like a finger.
  • Adults will actively defend their eggs or young by pretending they are injured and leading a predator away, or use vocalization to drive them away or dive at them.
  • A group of curlews can be called a "curfew", "game", "head", "skein" or "salon" of curlews.
  • A female adult’s bill is longer than a male's, and has a different shape: flatter on top and having a more definite curve at the tip, while his is gently curved for its length. The juvenile's is distinctly shorter than his parents' for the first few months, but may equal the male's in length some time during its first year.


1. Long-Billed Curlew Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-billed_curlew
2. Long-Billed Curlew on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22693195/0

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