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Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed curlew

Long-billed curlew

The striking Long-billed Curlew is another species of concern associated with declining grasslands. It is one of only 9 species that are considered to be endemic to the grasslands of the Great Plains. While the species does not nest on Otero Mesa, it certainly uses the area in migration and during the winter.

There is hardly a more unusual looking bird in North American than the Long-billed Curlew. The long, decurved bill, which is used for probing for invertebrates, makes up over a quarter of the length of the bird. The species nests in eastern New Mexico and with the species breeding range shrinking over the last century, it is not unreasonable that the species once nested on Otero Mesa. Currently it is known only as a passage and wintering bird.

While preferring open grassland as a nesting site, in winter the birds will use coastal areas and interior grasslands. The interior winter range of the species is much more extensive and it is within those areas that they gravitate toward grasslands. On Otero Mesa they can be found anywhere but are often found feeding in areas adjacent to and on towns of Blacktail Prairie Dogs. This may be due to the presence of soils, which are easier to probe when searching for invertebrates.

The current single-biggest threat to this species is habitat alteration and degradation. Much of their nesting range has been altered for farmland while much of their wintering range is grazing land. Much of this grazing land is in poor shape, especially in drought years. The current population is estimated at around 20,000 individuals and is continuing to decline. There is no estimate at historic numbers but it is thought to have been in the range of 500,000 plus.

Otero Mesa continues to be a very important area for all grassland endemic birds including this one and degradation of this habitat could be devastating to a whole host of birds with already depressed numbers.

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