By Graham Sorenson, BC Projects Coordinator, Birds Canada
In late August, many of Canada’s breeding migratory birds are starting their migration south. But Long-billed Curlews have completed their journey to their non-breeding grounds weeks ago. By this time, Long-billed Curlews from the Prince George, British Columbia area have all returned to California where they will spend the winter foraging primarily in agricultural fields.
We are learning where these birds go throughout the year thanks to a tracking project made possible by collaboration among scientists, birders, and landowners. In 2019, Birds Canada attached satellite transmitters to seven Long-billed Curlews and leg flags to three others to help understand the migratory movements and stopover locations for this northern curlew population. We spent the 2019 breeding season monitoring nesting activity and determining fledging dates with the help of local birders and landowners. Many of those same volunteers made sure to keep the local Long-billed Curlew monitoring effort thriving in 2020.
The return of Long-billed Curlews to Prince George in the spring is eagerly awaited each year, but in 2020, the local curlew excitement was even greater as the arrival of satellite tagged birds could be visualized on this map. While human travel restrictions increased, the Long-billed Curlews were arriving in large flocks to their breeding grounds. Through a a virtual presentation, Birds Canada shared updates on the local birds’ migration movements and provided ways for the local birders to help monitor and document the location, identity, and breeding status of tagged birds they saw.
I have been amazed by these beautiful curlews ever since I moved to my farm and discovered them along my driveway 15 yrs ago. When I heard that the curlew monitoring and tracking project was going to take place right here where I live, I could not believe it and was just so excited about being involved and learning about them!
Throughout the spring, birders regularly visited the local fields known for their large congregations of migrating curlews and reported these observations to Birds Canada and through eBird Canada
. We also received some incredible photos documenting returning birds like Martha (right leg flag AM) in a lingering snow patch and other individuals eating earthworms.
“Martha” (right leg flag “AM”) Photo: Greg Drozda
Several local birders and landowners took their interest in these birds to another level and spent many days throughout the spring and summer monitoring breeding pairs, observing behaviour, and eventually finding multiple nests based on their careful observations. This level of monitoring will help Birds Canada draw more comparisons between years and understand the demography of this northern population.
Now that the satellite tagged curlews have returned to their wintering grounds once again, we have documented two southward fall migrations and one northward spring migration. Most individuals took very similar southern migration routes in both years and arrived in similar areas to spend the winter. Future detailed analysis of the stopover and wintering locations will show what habitat and agricultural crop features are most often used by Long-billed Curlews.
2020 southern migration routes for four Long-billed Curlews from Prince George, BC.
Birds Canada will be ending the satellite-tracking program this fall and will return to Prince George next summer to attempt to capture and retrieve the satellite units and conduct further Long-billed Curlew monitoring and outreach.
Wherever you live in Canada, there are Citizen Science projects that you can participate in to help Birds Canada monitor and conserve Canada’s birds. Learn more at https://birdscanada.org/you-can-help/citizen-science/
I was transfixed by these birds at first sight, whether by their lonesome calls or their large size. So the opportunity to assist in this project and learn all I could was too good to pass up.
member of Prince George Naturalists