A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Long-billed Curlew is a fairly common Sonoma County resident in the winter months and some birds pass through during migration. Birds can arrive as early as late-July. The overwintering population has mostly left the area by the end of the following April. Generally scarce in the county from late April to early July. Perhaps most commonly seen here at Shollenberger Park and generally more common inland than at the coast.

Long-billed Curlew, our largest sandpiper, has an absurdly long bill. Bill length varies, but it’s not uncommon for the bill of a Long-billed Curlew to be more than a third as long as the rest of its body. Most likely to be confused with its close relative, the Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus, see below).

A very large sandpiper, Long-billed Curlew can be as much as about 23 inches long. Superficially similar to Whimbrel, but may be distinguished by several distinctive traits. While Whimbrel has a very long, decurved bill, Long-billed Curlew has a very, very long decurved bill. Long-billed Curlew is a bigger bird than Whimbrel. Whimbrel has a distinctly striped head pattern that is suggested in Long-billed Curlew, but usually not nearly as distinct as in Whimbrel. In flight, look for the cinnamon wash under the wings of Long-billed Curlew. Note, however, that juveniles have distinctly white underwings and a white lower back and rump--features shared by juvenile Whimbrel. May also be confused with Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa), but that bird is smaller and has an upturned, distinctly two-toned bill (reddish at the base, blackish at the tip). Long-billed Curlew typically shows a little red tinting at the base of the bill, but the red on the bill of Marbled Godwit is quite prominent (photo below).    

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 53

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 221

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 172

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, pg. 184

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, p. 216-217

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 124

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 150

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 188

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 210-241 (general notes on shorebird ID), p. 221

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 105-106

O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson, The Shorebird Guide, 2006, pp. 8, 111-114, 120, 383-384

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 29

Paulson, Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide, 2005, pp. 173-175

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, pp. 142, 144

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, pp. 138, 156

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  pp. 130, 132

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 157

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 246

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 143

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Long-billed Curlew



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012.

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Long-billed Curlew, Moss Landing (Monterey County), July 2, 2012

Long-billed Curlew. Note reddish tint at base of bill

Moss Landing (Monterey County), July 2, 2012

Long-billed Curlew showing buff underwing linings

Moss Landing (Monterey County), July 2, 2012

For comparison: Whimbrel, Bodega bay, August 23, 2011

Note the strongly striped head, short bill relative to Long-billed Curlew

For comparison: Marbled Godwit, Bodega bay, April 1, 2010

Note the slightly upturned, clearly two-toned bill

Long-billed Curlew

Numenius americanus

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated July 19, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County