Audubon Centennial Edition  The Birds of America

Plate: 208
Esquimaux Curlew
Plate: 268
American Woodcock
Plate: 263
Curlew Sandpiper
Plate: 223
Pied oyster-catcher
Plate: 220
Piping Plover
Plate: 288
Yellow Shank
Long-billed Curlew
Havell Name   Havell Plate No.   Paper Size
Long billed Curlew 231 28" x 39"
Common Name Price Image Size
Long-billed Curlew $ 1,400 23" x 36"


Ornithological Biography
The Long-billed Curlew is a constant resident in the southern districts of the United States, whereas the other species are only autumnal and winter visitors. It is well known by the inhabitants of Charleston that it breeds on the islands on the coast of South Carolina; and my friend the Reverend JOHN BACHMAN has been at their breeding grounds. That some individuals go far north to breed, is possible enough, but we have no authentic account of such an occurrence, although many suppositions have been recorded. All that I have to say on this subject is, that the bird in question is quite unknown in the Magdeleine Islands, where, notwithstanding the assertions of the fi shermen, they acknowledged that they had mistaken Godwits for Curlews. In Newfoundland, I met with a well-informed English gentleman, who had resided in that island upwards of twenty years, and described the Common Curlew of Europe with accuracy, but who assured me that he had observed only two species of Curlew there, one about the size of the Whimbrel--the Numenius hudsonicus, the other smaller--the N. borealis, and that only in August and the beginning of September, when they spend a few days in that country, feed on berries, and then retire southward. Mr. JONES of Labrador, and his brother-in-law, who is a Scotch gentleman, a scholar, and a sportsman, gave me the same account. None of my party observed an individual of the species in the course of our three months’ stay in the country, although we saw great numbers of the true Esquimaux Curlew, N. borealis. Yet I would not have you to suppose that I do not give credit to the reports of some travellers, who have said that the Long-billed Curlew is found in the fur countries during summer. This may be true enough; but none of the great northern travellers, such as RICHARDSON, ROSS, PARRY, or FRANKLIN, have asserted this as a fact. Therefore if the bird of which I speak has been seen far north, it was in all probability a few stragglers that had perhaps been enticed to follow some other species. I am well aware of the propensity it has to ramble, as I have shot some in Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Mississippi; but the birds thus obtained were rare in those districts, where the species only appears at remote periods; and in every instance of the kind I have found the individuals much less shy than usual, and apparently more perplexed than frightened by the sight of man.

Until my learned friend, Prince CHARLES BONAPARTE, corrected the errors which had been made respecting the Curlews of North America, hardly one of these birds was known from another by any naturalist, American or European. To WILSON, however, is due the merit of having fi rst published an account of the Long-billed Curlew as a species distinct from the Common Curlew of Europe.

This bird is the largest of the genus found in North America. The great length of its bill is of itself suffi cient to distinguish it from every other. The bill, however, in all the species, differs greatly, according to the age of the individual, and in the present Curlew I have seen it in some birds nearly three inches shorter Long-billed Curlew Plate 231. The following text is a direct excerpt from the description of the bird as written by Audubon and included with each subscription to the original Havell Edition to Audubon’s “The Birds of America” Only the last portion of the text which describes the biological details of the bird have been omitted for the purpose of brevity than in others, although all were full grown. In many of its habits, the Long-billed Curlew is closely allied to the smaller species of Ibis; its fl ight and manner of feeding are similar, and it has the same number of eggs. Unlike the Ibis, however, which always breeds on trees, and forms a large nest, the Curlew breeds on the ground, forming a scanty receptacle for its eggs; yet, according to my friend BACHMAN, the latter, like the former, places its nests “so close together, that it is almost impossible for a man to walk between them, without injuring the eggs.”

The Long-billed Curlew spends the day in the sea-marshes, from which it returns at the approach of night, to the sandy beaches of the sea-shores, where it rests until dawn. As the sun sinks beneath the horizon, the Curlews rise from their feeding--rounds in small parties, seldom exceeding fi fteen or twenty, and more usually composed of only fi ve or six individuals. The fl ocks enlarge, however, as they proceed, and in the course of an hour or so the number of birds that collect in the place selected for their nightly retreat sometimes amounts to several thousands. As it was my good fortune to witness their departures and arrivals in the company of my friend BACHMAN, I will here describe them.

Accompanied by several friends, I left Charleston one beautiful morning, the 10th of November, 1831, with a view to visit Cole’s Island, about twenty miles distant. Our crew was good, and although our pilot knew but little of the cuttings in and out of the numerous inlets and channels in our way, we reached the island about noon. After shooting various birds, examining the island, and depositing stir provisions in a small summer habitation then untenanted, we separated; some of the servants went off to fi sh, others to gather oysters, and the gunners placed themselves in readiness for the arrival of the Curlews. The sun at length sunk beneath the water-line that here formed the horizon; and we saw the birds making their fi rst appearance. They were in small parties of two, three, or fi ve, and by no means shy. These seemed to be the birds which we had observed near the salt-marshes, as we were on our way. As the twilight became darker the number of Curlews increased, and the fl ocks approached in quicker succession, until they appeared to form a continuous procession, moving not in lines, one after another, but in an extended mass, and with considerable regularity, at a height of not more than thirty yards, the individuals being a few feet apart. Not a single note or cry was heard as they advanced. They moved for ten or more yards with regular fl appings, and then sailed for a few seconds, as is invariably the mode of fl ight of this species, their long bills and legs stretched out to their full extent. They fl ew directly towards their place of rest, called the “Bird Banks,” and were seen to alight without performing any of the evolutions which they exhibit when at their feeding-places, for they had not been disturbed that season. But when we followed them to the Bird Banks, which are sandy islands of small extent, the moment they saw us land, the congregated fl ocks, probably amounting to several thousand individuals all standing close together, rose at once, performed a few evolutions in perfect silence, and re-alighted as if with one accord on the extreme margins of the sand-bank close to tremendous breakers. It was now dark, and we left the place, although some fl ocks were still arriving. The next morning we returned a little before day; but again as we landed, they all rose a few yards in the air, separated into numerous parties, and dispersing in various directions, fl ew off towards their feeding-grounds, keeping low over the waters, until they reached the shores, when they ascended to the height of about a hundred yards, and soon disappeared.

Now, reader, allow me to say a few words respecting our lodgings. Fish, fowl, and oysters had been procured in abundance; and besides these delicacies, we had taken with us from Charleston some steaks of beef, and a suffi ciency of good beverage. But we had no cook, save your bumble servant. A blazing fi re warmed and lighted our only apartment. The oysters and fi sh were thrown on the hot embers; the steaks we stuck on sticks in front of them; and ere long every one felt perfectly contented. It is true we had forgotten to bring salt with us; but I soon proved to my merry companions that hunters can fi nd a good substitute in their powder-fl asks. Our salt on this occasion was gunpowder, as it has been with me many a time; and to our keen appetites, the steaks thus salted were quite as savoury as any of us ever found the best cooked at home. Our fi ngers and mouths, no doubt, bore marks of the “villanous saltpetre,” or rather of the charcoal with which it was mixed, for plates or forks we had none; but this only increased our mirth. Supper over, we spread out our blankets on the log fl oor, extended ourselves on them with our feet towards the fi re, and our arms under our heads for pillows. I need not tell you how soundly we slept.
The Long-billed Curlews are in general easily shot, but take a good charge. So long as life remains in them, they skulk off among the thickest plants, remaining perfectly silent. Should they fall on the water, they swim towards the shore. The birds that may have been in company with a wounded one fl y off uttering a few loud whistling notes. In this respect, the species differs from all the others, which commonly remain and fl y about you. When on land, they are extremely wary; and unless the plants are high, and you can conceal yourself from them, it is very diffi cult to get near enough. Some one of the fl ock, acting as sentinel, raises his wings, as if about to fl y, and sounds a note of alarm, on which they all raise their wings, close them again, give over feeding, and watch all your motions. At times a single step made by you beyond a certain distance is quite enough to raise them, and the moment it takes place, they all scream and fl y off. You need not follow the fl ock. The best mode of shooting them is to watch their course for several evenings in succession; for after having chosen a resting place, they are sure to return to it by the same route, until greatly annoyed.

The food of the Long-billed Curlews consists principally of the small crabs called fi ddlers, which they seize by running after them, or by pulling them out of their burrows. They probe the wet sand to the full length of their bill, in quest of sea-worms and other animals. They are also fond of small salt-water shell- fi sh, insects, and worms of any kind; but I have never seen them searching for berries on elevated lands, as the Esquimaux Curlews are wont to do. Their fl esh is by no means so delicate as that of the species just mentioned, for it has usually a fi shy taste, and is rarely tender, although many persons consider it good. They are sold at all seasons in the markets of Charleston, at about twenty-fi ve cents the pair.

Rambling birds of this species are sometimes seen as far as the neighbourhood of Boston; for my learned friend THOMAS NUTTALL says in his Manual, that “they get so remarkably fat, at times, as to burst the skin in falling to the ground, and are then superior in fl avour to almost any other game bird of the season. In the market of Boston, they are seen as early as the 8th of August.” I found them rare in East Florida in winter and spring. They were there seen either on large savannahs, or along the sea-shore, mixed with marbled Godwits, Tell-tales, and other species.


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