THE HUDSONIAN CURLEW is one of our largest shore birds, having a length of from 16-1/2 to 18 inches. Its brownish color, long curved bill, and white stripe on the sides of its head above and below the eyes, are all good field marks. Curlews are noisy birds, particularly when their home territory or nesting grounds are invaded during the breeding season.
The Hudsonian curlew breeds on the open wet tundra in Alaska and northern Canada. At Mount McKinley National Park we found that longtailed jaegers or robber gulls frequently nested close by, often within a few feet of the curlews. There seemed to be some sort of an understanding between the two species whereby the curlews served as watchmen and the jaegers as policemen, both species benefiting thereby. Whenever an intruder invaded their common nesting ground the constantly watching curlews, with the advantage of long legs and necks, were quick to see him and sound a long raucous warning cry. The jaegers, thus aroused, would then take up the battle and drive the wandering caribou or grizzly bear away from the vicinity of the curlews' nest as well as their own nest. In this way, the eggs of both species which were laid out on the open tundra were protected from trampling.
On July 13, 1926, near Mount McKinley, a female curlew, with chicks about the size of a quail, tried to decoy us away from her family through the common ruse of spreading her wings and tail and then crawling along through the weeds as though crippled. Meanwhile, the young curlews eluded us by hiding in clumps of fireweed.
Through binoculars we watched the parent curlews as they fed and were surprised to find that, instead of foraging for aquatic life in the water, they stalked, captured, and ate large bumblebees and other insects that they deftly picked out of blossoms of flowering plants. The curlews would hold the larger flies and bumblebees in the tips of their bills and, while thus holding them, would strike their bills against the rocky ground thereby breaking up and killing the insects so they could be easily and painlessly swallowed. One curlew, however, swallowed bumblebees without breaking them up and the insects could be seen as lumps going down in its throat.
Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010