Curlew Wanted to Help International Research Take Flight

On a sun-drenched May evening, a research crew gathered in a horse pasture in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. They had high hopes of capturing a curlew on its nest and found what appeared to be a perfect vantage point to spy on a known nest. Their anticipation increased as they affixed spotting scopes on tripods and unpacked various containers overflowing with miscellaneous data collection equipment. Peering through his scope, the group leader quietly stated, “We have a bird on the nest,” and the team’s excitement rose as they hoped their expectations were about to become reality.

As part of an ongoing research project, a team from the Intermountain Bird Observatory of Boise State University recently spent time in southwestern Montana to continue their tracking of Long-billed curlews throughout the intermountain west. Long-billed curlews are the largest North American shorebird but they’re most commonly found on grassland habitats. That is, when they’re found. Unfortunately, grasslands are one of the most threatened habitats in the Americas, and the pasture where the team erected their spotting scopes is no exception – most of the grasslands in the Bitterroot have been altered in some way. Due in part to changing land uses, populations of Long-billed curlews are declining throughout much of their range.

After developing and carefully deploying a plan that included a very wide and unwieldy net, the team successfully captured the curlew on its nest. The bird was then hooded and processed through a series of measurements and diagnostics including blood and saliva samples, body weight, and wing, leg and bill measurements, as well as an assessment of the nest. The female curlew was outfitted with new accessories, including a small aluminum leg band, mini “back pack” satellite transmitter, and a plastic leg flag labelled “CH.” She will be tracked by the researchers as they hope to discover more information regarding the curlews’ migratory habits and response to habitat changes along the way. CH’s data will contribute to the formation of a plan and conservation partnerships that create hope for curlews across Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, including a plan that involves introducing the Bitterroot landowner to this winged visitor on his property.

Learn more about this curlew satelite project led by Intermountain Bird Observatory here.