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Long-billed Curlew habitat use and migration

Long-billed Curlews are North America’s largest shorebird. In Canada, they breed in southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the interior of British Columbia. Approximately 16% of the Long-billed Curlew’s global breeding range is in Canada. The species is designated by the federal Species at Risk Act as a species of Special Concern. In British Columbia, the curlew is Blue-listed and considered Vulnerable.

Over the past 150 years, Long-billed Curlews in North America have declined and their range has become smaller, partially due to agricultural intensification. However, in B.C., the curlew’s range has been expanding across the province over that same time period. This has happened as natural grasslands in the province have been converted to agricultural land, which has resulted in birds breeding on cultivated land.

There are several questions about this species that we need to answer in order to effectively conserve it. We do not know how nesting success in habitats on cultivated land compares to that in natural grasslands, or how breeding success varies across the species’ B.C. range. We also do not know the exact wintering locations of the Long-billed Curlews that breed in the East Kootenays or the Prince George area, nor do we know the routes that they take to get to and from their breeding sites.

Photo: Alyssa Hollyoake

Our study aims to determine the relative success of curlew nests in agricultural habitats versus natural grasslands, as well as to find out where these birds spend the winter and how they get there. To answer these questions, we’re using a combination of methods: volunteer roadside surveys, detailed monitoring of nesting sites, and satellite tracking of individual birds.

Fieldwork from 2017 in the East Kootenays and 2019 in the Prince George area has helped us progress toward finding answers, allowing us to make comparisons between natural and agricultural areas. These data have also documented the curlews’ migration movements and non-breeding sites in California.

In 2020, we will continue to track some of the birds we caught in 2019, as well as to compare the nesting-ground threats among regions where different hay harvesting practices are used. We will also continue to engage with farmers in the interior of B.C. to encourage land stewardship practices that benefit curlews.

For more information contact:

David Bradley
Director, British Columbia

Photo: Alyssa Hollyoake

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