Long-billed Curlew Mating Display

I had a wonderful photographic opportunity yesterday seeing a Long-billed Curlew mating display on Antelope Island State Park.

I’m disappointed that I wasn’t closer than I was because I feel that these images are merely documentary shots instead of the fine, highly detailed images I would have loved. These are crops of more than 45% and because of that I don’t have the fine details that I want from all of my images. I’d never seen this behavior before and would have loved to have gotten better pictures.

I won’t be posting my techs for these images because there are so many.

A Long-billed Curlew on breeding groundsA Long-billed Curlew on breeding grounds

At first there was only one Curlew but shortly afterwards another bird flew in. Female Curlew’s bills are typically longer than the males bills.

Male and female Long-billed Curlew courtingMale and female Long-billed Curlew courting

In this frame the male is on the left and the female is on the right. The female was calling, the male wasn’t.

Male Long-billed Curlew shaking the femaleMale Long-billed Curlew shaking the female

The male began what is termed “shaking”¹, in this frame the male was approaching the female from behind.

Male Curlew ruffling the female's back feathersMale Curlew ruffling the female’s back feathers

In this frame the male is using his bill to ruffle the back feathers of the female.

Long-billed Curlew courtship behaviorLong-billed Curlew courtship behavior

Males also ruffle the under tail-coverts of the female as shown above.

Female Long-billed Curlew showing aggression Female Long-billed Curlew showing aggression

At one point during this display the female acted aggressively towards the male and used her bill to poke or prod him, he reacted by raising his wings and moved away from her.

The Curlew courtship continuesThe Curlew courtship continues

After the male moved away he circled back behind the female.

Male Long-billed Curlew Courting Male Long-billed Curlew Courting

He then began to ruffle her under tail-coverts again and she seemed more receptive to his advances.

Long-billed Curlew bill shaking behaviorLong-billed Curlew bill shaking behavior

On Birds of North America they mention that the bill shaking is so vigorous that the bill vibrates, observing this through my long lens I would have to agree.

Male Long-billed Curlew following the femaleMale Long-billed Curlew following the female

The female would move away slightly but the male would follow.

Male Curlew ruffling the tail-coverts of the femaleMale Curlew ruffling the tail-coverts of the female

And he would begin ruffling her under tail-coverts again.

The male Curlew keeps trying to court the femaleThe male Curlew keeps trying to court the female

I kept hoping that the Curlews would copulate. The male sure seemed intent on ruffling her feathers.

The female Long-billed Curlew ignores the male's advancesThe female Long-billed Curlew ignores the male’s advances

I found the pose of the male interesting in this frame with his body bent low with his wings spread slightly and raised over his body.

The male Long-billed Curlew gives it one last tryThe male Long-billed Curlew gives it one last try

The male spent a lot of time ruffling the female’s feathers.

The female Curlew wasn't receptiveThe female Curlew wasn’t receptive

Now matter how much this male paid attention to the female she wasn’t receptive and became aggressive with the male again. After the male moved away he flew off.

The interactions and behaviors were fascinating to me and I hope that I will be able to observe and photograph it again.


¹ Birds of North America


  1. Dan Huber April 5, 2012 at 6:11 am

    Wonderful capture of some cool behaviors Mia, love it.

    • Mia McPherson April 6, 2012 at 8:50 am

      Thank you Dan, it was fascinating behavior.

  2. Julie Brown April 3, 2012 at 8:35 pm

    At the end of the encounter he falls flat on his face! A very nice set of images showing interesting behavior.

    • Mia McPherson April 4, 2012 at 3:34 am

      Thanks Julie. In the last photo the male is lifting off and the female is showing aggressiveness towards it.

  3. Tammy Karr April 3, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Wow, that is fascinating action you’ve captured! It’s interesting how they use their bills in their mating ritual! I look forward to seeing more great captures.

  4. Jim Braswell April 3, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Maybe not as close as you would have liked, but still a great set of images and such an experience!

    • Mia McPherson April 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm

      Thanks Jim, it was a great experience.

  5. Stu Megan April 3, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Great Images!.. and great storyline information too! I love the open wing colors of rust browns and dusty greys.

    • Mia McPherson April 3, 2012 at 7:29 pm

      Thank you Stu, it was amazing to watch and photograph the interaction and behavior.

Comments are closed.