Naturalist Fact: Long-billed Curlew

Michael Libbe, www.allaboutbirds.org

Michael Libbe, www.allaboutbirds.org

The Long-billed Curlew is North America’s largest shorebird, and is easily identifiable by its extremely long, down-curved bill. This sandpiper is buffy brown with a cinnamon color under the wings, and has a wingspan of 24-35 inches. Females have a longer bill than males that is flatter on top, with a more noticeable curve at the tip. Their long bill allows them to forage deep into the ground for earthworms in grassland habitats, and shrimp and crabs on mudflats and beaches. These birds are known to peck at the ground surface as well for grasshoppers, beetles, and spiders.

Pesticide spraying may harm birds by reducing grasshopper populations. Also, habitat loss is a continuing threat due to development and effects of climate change. California wetlands have declined by 90%, and are an essential wintering ground for Long-billed Curlews.

Long-billed Curlews spend summers breeding in the Great Plains and Great Basin on grasslands and agricultural fields. Nests are a shallow depression in the ground that can be lined with grass, pebbles, twigs, and bark. Clutch size is four eggs, and their incubation period is 27-31 days. Young are born precocial, and are able to walk and leave the nest 5 hours after hatching. Chicks are able to fly after 45 days.

During the non-breeding season, Long-billed Curlews migrate to the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and interior Mexico. In Georgia, they can be found wintering on barrier islands, including Little St. Simons Island. Sandy beaches and tidal mudflats with very little human disturbance are the best locations for spotting these sandpipers.

Luke Seitz, www.allaboutbirds.org

Luke Seitz, www.allaboutbirds.org

 

Please like & share:

Naturalist Fact: Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Herons can be found year-round at Little St. Simons Island. These mid-sized wading birds received their name because they are most active during the evening hours, but they can be seen during the day as well. Black-crowned Night Herons are most easily recognized by their piercing red eyes, yellow legs, and black crown. To distinguish them from a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, note that Yellow-crowned Night Herons have a white or yellow crown, not black.

It is suspected that Black-crowned Night Herons forage at night because they are outcompeted in the daytime hours by larger wading birds. While they eat mostly fish, they have developed another interesting hunting strategy: they have been known to nest in the same sites as other herons and egrets, using their protection during the day, and preying upon the other nests at night. This picture was taken early one morning in the rookery at Norm’s Pond—it seems as though this Black-crowned Night Heron is demonstrating this fascinating behavior!

Please like & share:

It’s nesting time… with a special guest appearance!

Male (dark neck) and female (tan neck) Anhingas at Norm's Pond.

For the past couple of years, wading birds have set up a rookery at Norm’s Pond. This year the usual suspects in their stunning breeding plumage have already shown up.  There are at least four pairs of  Great Egrets who have already nested and are incubating their sky-blue eggs. The Snowy Egrets are in putting on a great show of courtship as they pick their mates. There are also some Tricolored Heron’s hopping about the branches.

The ones that have really gotten everyone talking are the Anhingas! Similar in appearance and ecology to the Double-crested Cormorant that is common here, the Anhinga is a rare visitor to our island. The Anhinga’s range extends from the coast of North Carolina through Texas. They prefer slow-moving freshwater habitats, presumably why we don’t see too many on Little St. Simons Island.

Like the Cormorant, the Anhinga is a dark water bird with a long slender neck. However, the Anhinga has a sharply pointed bill, and whitish/silver feathers on the top of its wings. When in their breeding plumage (like the ones at Norm’s Pond shown in the pictures) they have a brilliant blueish green ring around their eye.

Anhingas nest in small trees or shrubs near the water, and the male begins gathering nesting material before it has a mate. The pair at Norm’s Pond has a nest built, and we eagerly await the eggs, and about a month later, the chicks!

For more information on Anhingas (Anhinga anhinga) check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Please like & share: