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Preliminary investigations of the winter ecology of Long-billed Curlews in coastal Texas

January 23, 2012

Since the early 1900s, the distribution of the Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) has contracted dramatically in the eastern one-half of its historic range. The species has been designated as a "Bird of Conservation Concern" and focal species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a species of concern by several states, and a "Highly Imperiled" species in the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan. The uncertain outlook for this species has contributed to a plethora of research on Long-billed Curlews, most of which have focused on breeding and nesting ecology of the species. Gaps remain in information about factors affecting population dynamics on the winter grounds and the linkages between Long-billed Curlew populations on the breeding range, migration routes, and winter range. To begin filling those gaps, a pilot study was done to evaluate (1) curlew use of nocturnal roost sites, (2) use of public outreach to locate curlews and contribute to preliminary assessment of foraging habitat use, (3) six different methods to capture curlews, and (4) movements by curlews on wintering areas. The study area includes the lower Texas coast, which harbors the eastern-most dense populations of Long-billed Curlews in North America.

Use of historical winter roost sites was not observed; however, there was documented limited use (up to 150 curlews) of several new roost sites, some of which were used on an intermittent or erratic basis. Reports elicited from the public indicated Long-billed Curlews wintering in coastal Texas often forage in open, grass-covered lots of partially developed residential areas, golf courses, and public parks within urban and suburban zones. Curlews were reported to use these sites in developed areas as far as 100 kilometers inland. Other reports indicated Long-billed Curlews foraging in farm fields, shallow coastal marsh, and on the beaches of Gulf of Mexico barrier islands.

The effectiveness of six techniques for capture of Long-billed Curlews was evaluated in the study. Seven curlews were captured and banded with four of six methods attempted. At least one curlew each was captured with (1) noose ropes, (2) baited bow net, (3) Coda Netgun, and (4) whoosh net; no curlews were caught with a cast net or Super Talon netgun. The Coda Netgun proved to be the most effective methodology examined. Captured birds (7) were weighed, measured, and banded. Body masses (mean = 518 grams) were low compared to data previously published on body mass of Long-billed Curlews. There were 22 observations recorded of banded curlews. Resightings confirmed that birds were not harmed during capture. All of the 22 resightings occurred within two kilometers of the banding locations, suggesting that birds remained near their chosen foraging areas.

Results from this 1-year pilot study yielded an intriguing combination of findings that warrant further investigation. Observations include reduced numbers of roosting birds along the Texas coast during dry conditions, highly dynamic use of nocturnal roost sites, use of widely divergent habitat types for foraging, low body mass of most captured birds, and apparent fidelity to general feeding areas. Future investigations of this eastern winter population of curlews would benefit from larger sample sizes and monitoring of individual birds.

Publication Year 2012
Title Preliminary investigations of the winter ecology of Long-billed Curlews in coastal Texas
DOI 10.3133/ofr20111312
Authors Marc C. Woodin, Mary Kay Skoruppa, Jeremy W. Edwardson, Jane E. Austin
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2011-1312
Index ID ofr20111312
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center