University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

Page View

Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / The birds of North America

Plate XLVI. The long-billed curlew- -sickle-bill. (Numenius longirostris.) ,   p. 62

Page 62

with various other waders; and, at high water, roam along the
marshes. They fly high, and with great rapidity. A few are seen
in June and as late as the beginning of July, when they generally
move off toward the north. Their appearance on these occasions
is very interesting. They collect together from the marshes, as if
by premeditated design, rise to a great height in the air, usually
an hour before sunset, and, forming in one vast line, keep up a
constant whistling on their way to the north, as if conversing with
one another to render the journey more agreeable." This species
is nineteen inches long and thirty-two inches broad.
The Long-billed Curlew--Sickle-bill. (Numenius longirostris.)
Fig. I.
This is one of our abundant, and by sportsmen highly prized
game-birds, which is at home in most parts of the North American
continent. Its northern range is the Saskatchawan and the length
of the British provinces, where they retire to breed, rearing its
young, to the southern border. It is known by its long bill, and
loud, short whistling note, resembling the word kurlew, from whence
it derives its name. A good imitation of this note, it is said, may
entice a whole flock within gunshot. It affords splendid sport to
the shooter, and as a delicacy is equal to the Golden Plover.
"It is by no means confined to the vicinity of the water," says
Dr. Coues, " but, on the contrary, is often seen on extensive dry
plains, where it feeds on various mollusks, insects, and berries,
which it deftly secures with its extraordinarily long bill. The
length and curve of this member, measuring sometimes eight or
nine inches in length, gives the bird a singular and unmistakable
appearance, either in flight or when gathering its food. Its voice
is sonorous and not at all musical. During the breeding season,
in particular, its harsh cries of alarm resound when the safety of
its nest or young is threatened. In the fall, when food is plenty,
it becomes very fat, and affords delicate eating."
Dr. Newberry found the Curlew quite abundant in the vicinity
of San Francisco and throughout the Sacramento valley, during
the autumn and winter, though there were comparatively few in
the summer before the rainy season. " In our march," he adds,
"I through the Sacramento valley and northward, we did not meet
with it until we came down into the plains bordering Pitt river,
above the upper canon. Here we found them in immense num-
bers, and they formed a valuable addition to our bill of fare. This
prairie is entirely covered with water during the wet season, as is
proven by the myriads of aquatic shells (planorbis, physa, etc.)
scattered over the ground in the grass, and as it does not dry up
so completely as the other valleys, the Curlews apparently pass
the summer there. Around the Klamath lakes and others of that
group they were abundant in August, and we found them asso-
ciated with the Geese and other water-birds, which were congre-
gated in countless numbers on the low lands bordering the Colum-
bia, in October."
This species is twenty-five and one-half inches long, and thirty-
eight inches broad.
The Willet, Semipalmated Tattler, or Stone Snipe. (Tolanus semi-
Fig. 2.
This is one of our well-known and abundant species of sporting
bird. It is familiar to the general public by the name of Willet,
derived from its shrill cries, like the syllables 'Pill willet, 'tit pill
willet. It is distributed through most all parts of North America,
and breeds where it may find a suitable place; most generally it
is near the water of some secluded pool, or in the midst of a marsh.
It generally passes its winters within the tropics and along the
shores of the Metican gulf, arriving in the Middle States early in
April, from which time to the early part of August its noisy cry
can be heard along the marshes for a great distance-Wilson says
"of more than half a mile." The same authority says: "The
anxiety and affection manifested by these birds for their eggs and
young are truly interesting. A person no sooner enters the marshes
than he is beset by the Willets, flying around and skimming over
his head, vociferating with great violence their common cry of
pill-will-wi7llet, and uttering at times a loud, clicking note, as he
approaches nearer to their nest. As they occasionally alight, and
slowly shut their long white wings, speckled with black, they have
a mournful note, expressive of great tenderness. . . . During
the laying season, the Crows are seen roaming over the marshes
in search of eggs, and, wherever they come, spread consternation
and alarm among the Willets, who, in united numbers, attack and
pursue them with loud clamors. It is worthy of remark, that
among the various birds that breed in these marshes, a mutual
respect is paid to each other's eggs; and it is only from intruders
from the land side, such as crows, jays, weasels, foxes, minx, and
man himself, that these affectionate tribes have most to dread."
As soon as the young are able to fly, the brood, with the parent
birds, roam together in a flock, and make frequent visits to the
pools and ditches near the beach, where they usually pass their
time wading about in the water, in search of food, which consists
of marine worms, small shell-fish, mollusks, and other aquatic
" Under ordinary circumstances," says Dr. Coues, " Willets
notoriously restless, wary, and noisy birds; but their nature is
changed, or, at any rate, held in abeyance, during and for a short
time after incubation. They cease their cries, grow less uneasy,
become gentle, if still suspicious, and may generally be seen
stalking quietly about the nest. When Willets are found in that
humor-absent-minded, as it were, absorbed in reflection upon
their engrossing duties, and unlikely to observe anything not di-
rectly in front of their bill-it is pretty good evidence that they
have a nest hard by. It is the same with Avocets, and probably
many other waders.   During incubation, the bird that is 'off
duty' (both parents are said to take turns at this) almost always
indulges in revery, doubtless rose-tinted, and becomes in a corre-
sponding degree oblivious to outward things. If then they are
not set upon in a manner entirely too rude and boisterous, the in-
quiring ornithologist could desire no better opportunity than he
will have to observe their every motion and attitude. But once
let them become thoroughly alarmed by too open approach, par-
ticularly if the setting bird be driven from her nest, and the scene
quickly shifts; there is a great outcry, violent protest, and tumult,
where was quietude. Other pairs, nesting near by, join their cries
till the confusion becomes general. But now, again, their actions
are not those they would show at other times; for, instead of flying
off with the instinct of self-preservation, to put distance between
them and danger, they are held by some fascination to the spot,
and hover around, wheeling about, flying in circles a little way to
return again, with unremitting clamor. They may be only too
easily destroyed under such circumstances, provided the orni-
thologist can lay aside his scruples and steel himself against sym-
"1 The half-webbing of the toes renders this species something of
a swimmer, if necessity arise; but it only takes to water beyond
its depth under urgent circumstances. In size, as well as in
plumage, it is very variable; the length of the legs, particularly,
varies in different individuals to a surprising degree."

Go up to Top of Page