Long-billed Curlew Season Update

Anna FasoliBirding, Field Work1 Comment

For two weeks now, we’ve been rope-dragging most every day at our sites to find curlew nests.  During this time, we saw very, very few females.  We have only a few spots where we consistently see pairs.  These places are promising though, and as time goes on, we’ve been seeing pairs go through the process of forming and establishing what appear to be somewhat of a bond.  In the beginning, females were pursued at one time by a number of males, and ended up chasing a lot of males away that didn’t seem to be making the cut. Females even seemed to take the males on long aerial chases through the air.  Males were continually displaying and calling, in hopes to lure females onto their territories.  In time, we eventually saw a few females actually tolerating single males near them, as the males whistled and made an attempt to look attractive to the females, trying to get the females closer to scrapes they were enthusiastically making on the ground.  Still, many males seemed to be single and they were displaying and calling to females that just didn’t seem to be there (which became apparent after we rope-dragged a very large area and found no nests or hidden females).  In the last few days though, things seem like they are starting to turn around.  After a few visits to the sites where we’ve seen pairs together in the past, it looks as though the pairs are a little more established.  The (few) paired males don’t seem to be doing their drunken curlew whistle to their females, and instead just stick with territorial calls every now and then directed at a male flying over or a male on an adjacent territory.  Females seem to follow males around a little more while they forage now.  If you see a male on the ground somewhere, there is a good chance that a female may be nearby in the tall grass, so it is worth watching.  Also, if you see two curlews on the ground together, chances are good that you’ve got a pair, because males don’t seem to tolerate the close presence of another male.  There are still plenty of unpaired males, though, that whistle and call in the early morning and late evening, and spend a lot of time circling their territories.  We hope more females will arrive soon.

Long-billed Curlew - female; note long, slightly curved bill (photo by Anna Fasoli)

 

Long-billed Curlew - male; note shorter and more curved bill than female (photo by Anna Fasoli)

So, two weeks ago, two of our co-workers found our first curlew nest on a hillside by watching a female simply walk to it.  It was a warm day, so chances are good that the female got off because of the higher temperatures.  The 4 eggs were laid about 10 days earlier.  This is already a VERY lucky nest, not only because it is our first one, but because it was nearly destroyed by a dirt bike. Yesterday, while observing the nest from a distance, we noticed a dirt bike track that looked like it went right over the nest.  Somehow, the female was still on it, indicating that it hadn’t completely obliterated the 4 eggs.  We had to check it out, and miraculously, all 4 eggs were still in tact.  The dirt bike passed by the nest within only a few inches.  Today, a few morons were target-shooting on the hill adjacent to the nest hill.  This poor female has to put up with a lot of disturbance during the day, and it will be pretty amazing if these eggs (and hopefully chicks) make it.

Long-billed Curlew - female (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Long-billed Curlew on nest - female (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

First Long-billed Curlew nest of the season (photo by Shaun Olson)

While rope-dragging with volunteer Alessia Cantaboni today, a male curlew gave away his presence on a hill side (where we had not yet rope-dragged) with a loud territorial call.  We moved on a little, but then Alessia spotted a second male less than 100 meters from the first.  Just a few meters away from that male was a big female, sitting low on the ground, and panting from the 75 degree temperatures.  She looked a little ‘off,’ like she was up to something, and as we all discussed a plan of action, she plopped down on the ground out of view.  As we approached, she flew low and out of view, revealing a big curlew egg.  The scrape looked pretty pathetic, and it wasn’t really lined with anything.  The egg didn’t float at all, and lay sideways in our water cup, indicating a brand new egg.  And not to be gross, but it was even a little slimy; I think it was laid fairly recently.  It’s pretty awesome to find a nest on the first day it is initiated.  Over the next 3 days, the female will drop 3 more eggs into the nest, and in 32 days, there will be 4 cute little fluffy curlew chicks running around, if they can avoid being a raven or raptor meal.  Hopefully this is an indication that our curlews are actually starting to nest, and that the next few weeks will yield even more nests.

Second Long-billed Curlew nest of the season (photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

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  • Denise H

     Anna, thanks for telling us how to differentiate between the male and female curlews.  Now I know what to look for when I see them.   between the male and female curlews.  Now I know what to look for when I see them.