Species Assessment for Long-Billed Curlew (Numenius Americanus) in Wyoming

Publication Information

Douglas A Keinath
Darby N. Dark-Smiley
Publication Date: 2004-01
Tags: WLCI, BLM, WLCI Agency Report


The Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) is the largest bird in the sandpiper family (Scolopacidae), and one of only nine species of grassland birds that is considered endemic to the Great Plains (Dugger and Dugger 2002).  This curlew species has the southernmost breeding distribution and northernmost wintering distribution of the four curlew species found in North America (Dugger and Dugger 2002).  It breeds in the Great Plains, Great Basin, and intermontane valleys of the western U.S. and southwestern Canada (Dugger and Dugger 2002).  The Longbilled Curlew is cinnamon-brown above, and buff below, with a very long, strongly downcurved bill (Field Guide to the Birds of North America 1999).  Cinnamon-buff wing linings, which are visible in flight, are distinctive in all plumages (Field Guide to the Birds of North America 1999).  The Long-billed Curlew’s call is a loud, musical, ascending cur-lee (Field Guide to the Birds of North America 1999), and can be heard across short and mixed grasslands throughout the midwestern and western areas of the continent.  The diet of the Long-billed Curlew consists of various invertebrates, as well as some vertebrates, including shrimp and crabs on tidal mudflats of  wintering grounds and burrowing earthworms in pastures of summering grounds (Dugger and Dugger 2002).  Long-billed Curlews are seasonally monogamous and both sexes incubate, and are aggressive in defense of their nests and young (Dugger and Dugger 2002).  Breeding begins in late April to early May, and curlews have one brood of three to five young (Dugger and Dugger 2002). 

The Long-billed Curlew once bred throughout the western grasslands and into the east, but populations have declined significantly during the past 150 years, especially wintering populations on the east coast (Dugger and Dugger 2002).  Overharvest in migration areas (1850-1917) and elimination of suitable habitat are believed to be responsible for these declines (Dugger and Dugger 2002).  Today, the species is considered vulnerable throughout its range, and continued Dark-Smiley and Keinath habitat loss is thought to be the greatest threat to population stability.  Long-billed Curlew numbers in Wyoming have also decreased over the last century.  The Long-billed Curlew has been documented as breeding in only a few locations in Wyoming (less than 10) within the last 15 years.  It now only breeds regularly on the irrigated meadows of the upper Green River basin near Pinedale, and has recently been extirpated from habitat converted to housing developments near Sheridan and Casper. 


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