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Bristle-thighed Curlew

Numenius tahitiensis

Length: 17 inches Wingspan: 32 inches Seasonality: Non-resident in South Dakota
ID Keys: Long decurved bill, mottled brownish above, light below with dark streaks on neck, distinctive buffy rump and tail in flight

Bristle-thighed Curlew - Numenius tahitiensisThe Bristle-thighed Curlew is very similar to the Whimbrel, but is much less common.  They have been considered a rather mysterious bird by many, given their rarity, and given that their nesting grounds weren't discovered until the 1940s.  They are found on the Hawaiian Islands and other Pacific islands during the winter months, but their summer breeding grounds are on a few remote tundra areas of western Alaska.  Populations of Bristle-thighed Curlews are low, and are on the decline.  On their wintering grounds, Bristle-thighed Curlews are particularly susceptible during the late fall months.  They are the only "shorebird" to undergo a molt where they are flightless for a time, leaving them vulnerable to introduced island predators and human activity.

Habitat: Found on open, hilly tundra in western Alaska during the summer breeding season.  Their winter habitats are beaches, mudflats, and coral reefs on Pacific islands.

Diet: Feeds heavily on insects during the summer breeding season.  Before departing for their long-distance migration across the Pacific, Bristle-thighed Curlews often gather in parts of western Alaska to feed heavily on berries.  In their winter range in Hawaii and other islands, they will feed on crustaceans, mollusks, snails, and other small marine life.

Behavior: Foraging is usually done by walking along the ground and picking up items with their bill.  They may also use their long bill to prove in mud or sand.

Nesting: The nest of a Bristle-thighed Curlew is a shallow depression on the ground, lined with mosses, lichens, and leaves.  The female usually lays 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, the young soon leave the nest and feed themselves, but they are attended to by both parents.

Song: Call of a Bristle-thighed Curlew is a clear whistling often compared to the whistle of a human.

Migration: Strongly migratory.  Birds that breed in Alaska summer in the Hawaiian Islands and other Pacific Islands.

Interactive eBird Map: Click to access an interactive eBird map of Bristle-thighed Curlew sightings

Similar Species: Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew

Conservation Status: Populations are small and are in decline.  The IUCN lists the Bristle-thighed Curlew as a "Vulnerable" species.

Further Information: 1) Audubon - Bristle-thighed Curlew

2) Whatbird - Bristle-thighed Curlew

3) USGS Alaska Science Center - Bristle-thighed Curlew

Photo Information: Photo taken by Kristine Sowl - USFWS Alaska - June 28th, 2010 - Western Alaska - Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.


Click below for a higher-resolution map
Bristle-thighed Curlew - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Non-resident in South Dakota

Additional Bristle-thighed Curlew Photos (coming soon!!)