Sunday, December 7, 2014

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew [John Massey Photo]
 The curlew sighting is so rare and amazing it deserves a second post.  As of today the bird is still present at Cape Tormentine feeding in a large muddy field, walking around on residents' lawns and strolling around the camp grounds.  Fortunately it is finding food and doing well.   But time is running out for it.  I hope it replenishes its body fat so it will have the energy and will to fly south.  It is unlikely that that will happen.  Whatever navigational mistake which brought it here is not likely to turn it around and direct it southward (my opinion; I hope I am wrong).

The Long-billed Curlew is our largest shorebird in North America.  The female is a bit bigger than the male and stands 55 cm tall (22 inches).  The bill is incredibly long at 16.6 cm (10 inches).  The bill has a pink base making it similar to the Hudsonian Godwit which can be seen here yearly on mudflats and coastal shorelines.  The godwit bill, however, is straight or slightly curved upward.  The curlew has a definite decurved bill (downward curve).  The only other similar bird is our rather common Whimbrel but it has a much shorter decurved bill and a distinct head stripe.  The Marbled Godwit which is rare here is smaller and has a straight or slightly up-curved bill.

Besides the distinct bill, the curlew has blue-gray legs and a nice cinnamon-buff color under its wings.  The body can be beige through cinnamon-buff to the reddish shown in the photo above.  There is a lot of barring on the back and wing coverts and the face and foreneck are light gray.  

The curlew normally feeds in western grasslands and coastal mudflats.  It spends its summers on its breeding grounds in southern British Columbia southward to northern Nevada, eastward to southern Alberta and Saskatchewan south to central New Mexico.  It normally winters along the Pacific coast from southern Washington south and on the Texas and Florida coasts, also in central California south to Mexico.  

The bird usually walks along picking and probing in the mud.  Apparently that long bill is useful to probe into the deep tunnels made in the mud by fiddler crabs in the south.  While I was watching it, it was probing deeply into the mud of the field and coming up at times with what looked like grubs and worms.  

This is New Brunswick's most unusual bird visitor this year.  It has excited birders from near and far. It will certainly put Cape Tormentine on the map.  We thank the residents for their interest, their understanding and tolerance of visiting birders and mostly for watching out for their famous visitor.

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