A research team that I’m part of just completed initial field work on a project to capture and tag Long-billed Curlews in the northern Great Plains of North America — a big step toward solving a huge mystery about this amazing bird.

The Long-billed Curlew is the continent’s largest shorebird and one of high conservation priority, according to the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan.  Like many other migratory birds, one critical piece of information lacking in order to conserve it is detailed knowledge of the places and routes it uses during migration. Our project is designed to unravel this mystery. The key to unraveling this is the use of rather high-tech, sophisticated satellite transmitter tags, which provide information on an animal’s location across vast distances for long periods of time.

The research team, comprised of investigators from The Nature Conservancy, Point Reyes Bird Observatory, University of California at Davis, U.S. Geological Survey, and World Wildlife Fund, ably assisted by private landowners and local staff, tagged a total of 7 individual curlews in mid-May at and in areas surrounding the Conservancy’s Matador Ranch in Phillips County, Montana.

Locations of individual birds are obtained daily and will be used by the team to study the migration routes, stopoversites, and wintering areas of these birds. As of this writing, all 7 birds were still in Montana, undoubtedly busy feeding their chicks and beginning to think about the southward migration.

This work in Montana will complement similar work done by collaborators in Oregon, Nevada, and elsewhere.  In future seasons, the team hopes to tag curlews in other states and provinces within the Great Plains of the United States and Canada.  We also are considering collaborating with researchers in Mexico to tag birds on their wintering grounds in the Chihuahuan Desert grasslands and elsewhere.

I’ll be updating the status of these birds at regular intervals, so please keep checking back.

(Image: Long-billed curlew at California’s Morro Strand State Beach. Credit: mikebaird through a Creative Commons license.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. This is very appealing to my “Nancy Drew” nature. I’ll be back!

  2. The Curlews need to be left alone! Capturing them again and again to put tracking devices on them is going to do more damage to the population than any other factor. Stop studying wildlife to death.

    1. Thanks for sending in this concern. I have to point out that the birds are only captured once and our team includes some of the most experienced shorebird researchers in the country from Point Reyes Bird Observatory and the University of California at Davis. While I agree that it is possible to over-study some species, this is an example of where this kind of research is essential, in my opinion. We know nothing about how this species travels from the breeding grounds to its wintering grounds, the latter which range from the Pacific Coast to the Gulf of Mexico and all points in between. Without this information, we are at a huge disadvantage in trying to monitor or conserve one of our most charismatic shorebirds–in fact, there is still great debate over even how many of them exist. I am confident that this work is a high priority and that it will be done without harming the species, or even individual birds.

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