Wyoming Long-Billed Curlew heads for Mexico

(Jackson, Wyo.) – A female, long-billed curlew captured and fitted with a GPS transmitter on the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this spring has surprised biologists by heading far south this past week, down to the state of Sinaloa in west central Mexico. The bird was captured on May 27 on the National Elk Refuge by a team of biologists from the Intermountain Bird Observatory (IBO), Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and the National Elk Refuge.

This is part of a regional study by IBO, based in Boise, ID, to outfit adult long-billed curlews with satellite transmitters to map migration routes, timing of migration and wintering sites of curlews that nest in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. AJ, a name based on its leg tag code, is the first long-billed curlew ever to be tagged in Wyoming.

AJ left the refuge in late June after hatching 4 eggs. It is common for females to leave the rearing of chicks to the males. Since leaving Jackson Hole, GPS locations show she traveled south to central Utah and lingered there for over a week before moving rapidly south over Arizona to stop on the west coast of Mexico, approximately 100 miles south of Mazatlan. So far, this is the farthest south that any of the nine curlews from Idaho, Montana and Wyoming currently being tracked by the IBO has moved. Biologists are waiting to see if this is will be her final wintering destination or she will keep moving.

Long–billed curlews are North America’s largest shorebird, recognizable by their distinctive long, down-curved bill. Though they spend their winters in the Central Valley of California, southern coasts and interior of Mexico, they currently breed in grasslands of the prairies and Intermountain West. Historically, their breeding grounds included the central and eastern United States.

Past surveys on the National Elk Refuge have documented 18 curlews occurring there in early June, making the refuge home to a significant concentration of the birds in western Wyoming. The long-billed curlew is a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Wyoming and Idaho, and a Species of Concern with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Recent population declines documented in some areas of Idaho demonstrate the need to understand where curlews go during the non-breeding season to help explain what may be driving population declines. The information gained from this study will be used to help develop a conservation plan for curlews across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The solar-powered transmitter fitted on the lone Wyoming bird was purchased through a grant from the Jackson-based Meg and Bert Raynes Wildlife Fund and is designed to provide location data for up to two years. , The Wyoming Game and Fish Department hopes to expand the curlew marking effort to other areas of WY in future years.  Movements of curlews tagged for this study can be followed on the web site: http://ibo.boisestate.edu/.

–Provided by Wyoming Game and Fish Department