Friday, July 24, 2015

Long-billed Curlew in Saskatchewan Grasslands

Long-billed Curlew flying at dusk over the Frenchman River Valley
Grasslands National Park.  © SB
Long-billed Curlews crossed our path several times during our visit to Grasslands National Park in southern  Saskatchewan.

Long-billed Curlews foraged around a Black-tailed Prairie Dog town for larva and bugs. They flew overhead, crying to the dawn. Then finally, one evening, they surged to the edge of the EcoTour road and squawked us away from their presumed nests.

(Something to keep in mind when walking in this grass — many migratory birds nest here.)

Long-billed Curlews are elegant and very large birds — North America's largest shorebird and the largest sandpiper in the world, in fact. But they summer and breed in the shortgrass and mixed grass Prairie before flying off for the winter to coastal Mexico and other hot places (true Prairie residents that they are...).

Long-billed Curlew in grasses at the side of the EcoTour Road through Grasslands National Park, SK ©SB

As the 2002 federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada report says, these prairie birds are of special significance:
"The Long-billed Curlew symbolizes Canada’s grassland ecosystems and is easily recognized and admired."
That 2002 COSEWC report says a primary threat to the survival of Long-billed Curlews is the continuing loss of native grasslands, and estimates that in Saskatchewan, 24% of existing grassland is at medium to high risk of being broken. (The 2013 Environment Canada Management Plan for the Long-billed Curlew says 79% of native prairie grasslands here have already been lost.)

Although Long-billed Curlews are relatively common in the protected area of Grasslands National Park, they are considered a Species of Special Concern federally, as well as in B.C. and Alberta — and have disappeared from Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan. (As for the rest of Saskatchewan? One might wonder about the future of the Long-billed Curlew here, but a 2013 Environment Canada report says this province has not listed it, and these Curlews don't show up on the provincial environment ministry's Species at Risk page.)

Whenever I see Long-billed Curlews, I feel surprised — and very happy. They are elegant, they are huge, they are lovely, and they have a right to be here, in the grasslands.

What are these birds?  Long-billed Curlews. 
Location: Grasslands National ParkSaskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date:  June 22 and June 24, 2015.


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