Curlew Collaboration: Working with our Neighbors to Track North America’s Largest Shorebird

Earlier this summer, the RCF crew teamed up with biologists Jay & Heidi Carlisle from Boise State University’s Intermountain Bird Observatory (IBO) to attach satellite transmitters to Long-Billed Curlews on and around Jackson Fork Ranch in Bondurant, WY.

Long-Billed Curlews are North America’s largest shorebird, breeding throughout the central and western United States and western Canada. Curlews nest in grassland areas, with dry rangeland and wet farm fields or pastures [1]. The conversion of nesting habitat to agricultural land and illegal shooting are critical and ongoing threats faced by curlews [2].

We worked with Jay & Heidi to identify the locations of nesting curlew pairs on the ranch. Their brown and tan feathers make curlews masters of camouflage, so our best chance of finding nesting pairs was in the early morning and late afternoon when the curlew parents would switch nest attendance roles, as this species shares incubating duties. We captured incubating curlews on their nests using a mist net; a long, curtain-like, multi-paneled net made with fine thread. We strung an 18 m (60’) net between two poles and slowly lowered it onto the incubating bird. Once removed from the net, Jay and Heidi banded, measured, and weighed the curlew, before fitting it with a transmitter that tracks its movements using the ARGOS satellite system. The harness was adjusted carefully to fit the individual curlew before securing the transmitter and releasing the bird.

The goal of attaching these transmitters is to expand the current understanding of daily movements, migration routes, and stopover sites of curlews. These data will contribute to a growing dataset that researchers and biologists use to inform the public and guide conservation and management practices. To find out more about the birds we captured and other curlews that have been fitted with transmitters visit the IBO website.  Also keep an eye out for a follow-up blog highlighting the movements, migration, and wintering areas of the four curlews that were fitted with transmitters at Jackson Fork Ranch!




RCF crew member and IBO Biologist Jay Carlisle carrying a mist net as they get ready to lower it onto a curlew nest. Capture requires a lot of patience to find the nest, but the event itself is quick!

A Long-Billed Curlew nest is  well hidden within the grass.

 Finding a curlew nest requires that you find the curlew first, which is no easy task. Can you spot the female curlew sitting on her nest in this photo?

IBO biologists make the final adjustments to a backpack transmitter. Before doing so, they collect bill, wing, and leg measurements as well as the bird’s weight.

Once the transmitter has been fitted, the curlew is all set to be released. This device will transmit data on the bird’s location for up to two years!