Thursday, April 24, 2014

America’s Largest Shorebird Nests in Idaho?

by Jordan Reeves, East Idaho conservation manager

That’s right!  Though it seems counter-intuitive, the long-billed curlew, considered to be America’s largest shorebird, journeys over a thousand miles every year from the warm climates, wetlands, and sandy beaches of California and Northern Mexico to nest and rear its young among Idaho’s grasslands.  Who would have guessed it?  In fact, The Nature Conservancy’s 1,600-acre Flat Ranch Preserve on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River is considered to be among Idaho’s most important nesting sites for these charismatic birds.
Curlew Photo © Chris Little/TNC
The Conservancy’s rotational grazing program, along with the pristine waters of the Henry’s Fork and its tributary streams, provide a vast network of wetlands and a mosaic of native grasses that provide curlew with shelter and nourishment during their vulnerable fledgling stages.  Despite the incredible habitat awaiting these birds as they return to the Henry’s Fork each summer, local wildlife biologists are growing increasingly concerned by evidence of declining curlew populations across Idaho and much of the West.  Many ranchers and farmers are seeing fewer birds return to nest with each passing summer and unfortunately they don’t yet know why.  How far do these birds travel in the course of a year?  Where do they stop along the way?  What types of habitats are they using? And most importantly, what factors are threatening them during their migration and reducing their population numbers? 
The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Intermountain Bird Observatory, will attempt to shed some light on these questions with our efforts to monitor curlew on the Flat Ranch this summer.  We will be conducting pre-nesting and post-nesting surveys of long-billed curlew on the Flat Ranch and neighboring properties during May in order to compare population numbers from previous years and gain a better understanding of the impacts to our local curlew population.  

Taking Flight © Chris Little/TNC
Thanks to the generous support of many community members here in East Idaho and our TNC supporters throughout the country, we will also be tagging one lucky curlew with a satellite transmitter.  This device will allow us to track the movements of this curlew throughout the year as it travels to wintering grounds and returns (fingers crossed) safely to the Flat Ranch next summer.  This is just the beginning of what we hope will become a broader effort in the Henry’s Fork region and throughout Eastern Idaho to monitor and track curlew population numbers and migration movements.  The data we generate will give us a much better understanding of the habitat Curlews need throughout their life cycle and the potential threats to their survival, whether in Idaho, California, Mexico, or somewhere in between. Ultimately our intention is to pin-point actions we can take to ensure the iconic sight of long-billed curlews amongst the grasslands of the Henry’s Fork will be enjoyed by many generations to come.  
Please help raise money to place an additional satellite transmitter on long-billed curlew by donating via the following link:


Anonymous said...

Am so glad to have the information, I was unaware of the fact it was in Idaho or where it nested, have been reading your information on it and that you have been following them Bonnie Preston of Boise.

Lisa Eller said...

Thank you so much for your interest Bonnie! You can follow the journey of our long-billed curlew on Facebook too: - we'll be updating our page with the latest. And if you do have any curlew sightings, you may want to report it on E-Bird: