Long-billed Curlews – A Territorial Encounter

/, Davis County, Long-billed Curlews, Utah/Long-billed Curlews – A Territorial Encounter

A little less than two weeks ago I did a post titled Long-billed Curlew Mating Display and I was thrilled to see their interactions. Yesterday on Antelope Island State Park I witnessed and photographed a territorial encounter between two Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) males that occurred while a female was nearby.

I won’t be posting my techs because there are so many images, I used a Nikon D300 with a Nikkor 200-400mm VR lens with the 1.4x TC attached. The quality of many of theses images aren’t my best but I really like the behavior that they show.

Long-billed Curlew territorial displayLong-billed Curlew territorial display

When we drove slowly up on the Curlews they were just standing close to each other but before the engine was even turned off these two birds were going at it hot and heavy. Even the dirt was flying!

Long-billed Curlews fighting on territoryLong-billed Curlews fighting on territory

My shutter speed for this frame was 1/1600 and even that wasn’t fast enough to freeze the action.

Long-billed Curlew Appeasement behaviorLong-billed Curlew Appeasement behavior

This image shows “Wing-raising” by the aggressor and I believe the bird in the foreground is displaying “Appeasement”. I’m not sure the bird in the front could have flattened itself much further.

Long-billed Curlews getting physicalLong-billed Curlews getting physical

Birds of North America states that violent, physical interactions are rare but this was beginning to look pretty violent to me as the one male stabbed its bill toward the other.

Aggressive behavior in Long-billed CurlewsAggressive behavior in Long-billed Curlews

I’m not sure which bird is the aggressor here.

Long-billed Curlew Wing-raising behaviorLong-billed Curlew Wing-raising behavior

Or here.

Long-billed Curlew territorial skirmishLong-billed Curlew territorial skirmish

This frame makes me think of fencing, En garde!

Long-billed Curlew Territorial EncounterLong-billed Curlew Territorial Encounter

At this point I thought the male on the left was going to take off, that the Curlew in the back would be the winner of the encounter.

A brief pause in the Long-billed Curlew fightA brief pause in the Long-billed Curlew fight

It certainly looked like the bird was going to leave.

Long-billed Curlews exhibiting territorial aggression Long-billed Curlews exhibiting territorial aggression

And then the action started again.

Battling Long-billed CurlewsBattling Long-billed Curlews

From still images it is difficult to get a feel of just how fast everything was happening. It was a challenge just keeping the two Curlews in the viewfinder.

Long-billed Curlews flashing their underwingsLong-billed Curlews flashing their underwings

The cinnamon colored underwings of these two males were flashing often. The bird’s bills were moving almost too quickly to follow with my eyes.

Long-billed Curlew Kick BoxingLong-billed Curlew Kick Boxing

Kick Boxing, Long-billed Curlew style. The female was still somewhere outside the frame watching all of the action going on, I just did not have time to photograph her.

Long-billed Curlews fighting with their billsLong-billed Curlews fighting with their bills

In this image the bill tip of the bird on the left can be seen just above the wing of the bird on the right. It had to have gone under the wing and over the rump of the opponent.

Two male Long-billed Curlews fighting for mating rightsTwo male Long-billed Curlews fighting for mating rights

Things seemed to be heating up.

The loser of the Long-billed Curlew Territorial FightThe loser of the Long-billed Curlew Territorial Fight

But one of the males lifted off from the ground and the female followed it to a grassy slope behind us leaving this Curlew on the fighting ground. He stayed still for quite sometime and it seemed that his right eye had been irritated by the scuffle because it kept closed most of the time.

A Long-billed Curlew lifting off from its breeding groundsA Long-billed Curlew lifting off from its breeding grounds

Before long the bird lifted off, perhaps to find a different mate.

When I left home I didn’t expect to photograph Long-billed Curlews – A Territorial Encounter

The interaction between the two male Curlews was fascinating and I felt privileged to see and photograph it through my lens. I had a front row seat to an unexpected show that nature provided!



  1. Roger Latour April 16, 2012 at 6:22 am

    What a totally awesome series of great photographs!

    • Mia McPherson April 18, 2012 at 8:12 am

      Thanks for your comment and for stopping by my blog Roger.

  2. Chuck Gangas April 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    Good for you Mia! I know how thrilled you must have been to have encountered this spectacle- the fact that you recorded it so well is testament to your photographic skills.

    • Mia McPherson April 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm

      Chuck, it was an amazing experience and I am tickled to have gotten images to share.

  3. Pescalune April 15, 2012 at 8:30 am

    This is an amazing and astonishing series Mia !!! wow wow wow !! 🙂

    • Mia McPherson April 15, 2012 at 8:36 am

      Thank you Pescalune! I was so thrilled to see this let alone be able to photograph it!

  4. Kathy H April 15, 2012 at 8:14 am

    Absolutely fantastic photos. Incredible experience.

    • Mia McPherson April 15, 2012 at 8:35 am

      Thank you Kathy for commenting and stopping by my blog. It was a very incredible experience.

  5. Scott Simmons April 15, 2012 at 7:00 am

    These are spectacular! Great post!

    • Mia McPherson April 15, 2012 at 8:34 am

      Thanks Scott, I sure hope to see this kind of action again with Long-billed Curlews, it was amazing!

  6. Robert Mortensen April 14, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    Wow! Awesome!

    • Mia McPherson April 14, 2012 at 6:26 pm

      Thank you Robert, it was awesome!

  7. Ken April 14, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    Absolutely stunning images!


    • Mia McPherson April 14, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      Thank you Ken, it was a fantastic experience.

  8. Jeremy Medina April 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Incredible sighting Mia! Your photos of the encounter tell a great story.

    • Mia McPherson April 14, 2012 at 3:32 pm

      Thank you Jeremy, it really was incredible to see.

  9. Azstu April 14, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Great to ‘watch’ this display and love the explanations too..

    • Mia McPherson April 14, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      Thank you Stu, I had to keep reminding myself to be aware of my buffer and not overfill it because I was concerned I’d miss some great action. We need cameras with limitless buffers for encounters like these!

  10. Prairie Birder April 14, 2012 at 9:28 am

    You are so very lucky to see this behavior, and your photos are magnificent!

    • Mia McPherson April 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm

      PrairieBirder, I do feel very lucky to have seen and photographed this interesting encounter and behavior. Thanks for your comment on these images.

  11. Earl April 14, 2012 at 9:04 am

    Beautiful images.

  12. Vincent Mistretta April 14, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Great images Mia, I particularly like the 5th and 10th images, great action and gesture capture.

    • Mia McPherson April 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm

      Thank you Vincent, the action was great and it was fun having a front row seat to it all!

  13. Julie Brown April 14, 2012 at 7:47 am

    Fascinating series here, Mia. Just being able to witness these types of interactions must have been exciting, but to capture these behaviors as well as you do is just icing on the cake! Thanks for sharing.

    BTW, I don’t know if you get my replies to your comments on my blog, but I was wondering what you thought about using a recording to draw in a bird. I know that you do not use any type of baiting to get your images. My post today of the Barred Owl is the reason for this question. I am a bit conflicted about it. On the one hand, it was a wonderful experience to see this magnificent raptor close-up, but I wonder about the ethics of changing the bird’s behavior. Some of the people in our group were elderly, and this was probably their only chance to see a free-flying owl in its habitat. Our photo trip leader, John Lopinot was cognizant of not stressing the birds too much, but it is not something that I usually do myself to get images. I guess I feel kind of guilty for not having to work for the photos!

    • Mia McPherson April 14, 2012 at 3:27 pm


      It was very exciting to see and photograph this encounter, the action was so fast it was difficult to keep up with all the feet, bills and legs flying everywhere.

      I do get your email replies when I comment on your blog. I don’t use recorded calls with birds (or animals), once I thried “phising” a Marsh Wren to get closer images, I think that the bird was laughing at me, not singing!

      I had what I consider a bad experience with someone playing a Barred Owl recording while trying to photograph an owl. The guy played the recording so often it pissed off the Barred Owl and it flew away which robbed us of photographing the bird. I think it is critical that the recorded calls are not played during the breeding season because the males will waste energy trying to locate their unnatural “opponent”. I also believe that it is not appropriate to play recorded calls when trying to locate Threatened, Endangered, species of Special Concern or that are Rare to an area. See: http://www.aba.org/about/ethics.html for more information.

      When it comes to a group like you were in with a responsible guide I don’t think you should feel guilty for not having to work as hard to get the images.

  14. Carol Mattingly April 14, 2012 at 7:25 am

    Absolutely fascinating to look at all of these images watching this fight take place. Seems a little violent to me with the stabbing action but it’s the wild so say no more. Great images Mia. Carol

  15. Susan April 14, 2012 at 6:13 am

    Wow, amazing photos and action!

    • Mia McPherson April 14, 2012 at 3:13 pm

      Thanks Susan, I’m still grinning ear to ear over the encounter.

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