Long-billed Curlew

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Here’s a species that is a first for me: the birds depicted here are Long-billed Curlews, members of the Sandpiper family.

I encountered these birds recently as they were foraging in a field of turf in southern Arizona’s farmlands between Tucson and Phoenix to the northwest. Long-billed Curlews are notable for a couple of things. First, they are among the largest of sandpipers. Second, they have what appear to be almost absurdly long downward curved beaks.

You’ll understand how the curlew uses its beak as a foraging tool if you look closely at the bird in the first image. The base of its beak is covered in mud. The curlew probes deeply into moist ground, looking to capture insects and other invertebrates. A prime reason for the curlews to be in this particular field when I photographed them is that the field had just been irrigated and the soil was quite moist.

These curlews aren’t inhabitants of our desert and they aren’t really residents of the farmlands, either. Although their winter range technically includes southern Arizona, the birds that I photographed were just passing through, part of a rather large mixed flock of Long-billed Curlews and White-faced Ibis that were in the process of migrating to their summer residences on the United States’ and southern Canada’s western plains. The flock, evidently needing a rest from the ardors of flying, had dropped in on this field for a few hours of relaxed foraging and just standing around.

We see a fair number of passers-through in southern Arizona during the spring and fall migration seasons. Southern Arizona sits under one of the great north-south flyways for migrating birds. Twice a year, millions of birds of myriad species fly over our area as they head to their summer or winter homes. Some of them choose to drop in for a respite, whether it be for hours or in some instances, days. Sometimes, I’ll be in the right place at the right time and get an opportunity to capture images of the transients. Such was the case with these curlews.

Images made with a Canon R5, Canon RF 100-500mm f4.5-7.1 IS L zoom lens+Canon RF 1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 1000, f10 @ 1/2000.

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