Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Long-billed Curlews - A Territorial Encounter

Earlier this spring I was extremely excited because I was able to see and photograph two Long-billed Curlew behaviors that I have wanted to photograph for quite some time, the mating display and these images from a territorial encounter between two males while a female observed the interactions nearby on Antelope Island State Park in northern Utah.

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 amongst my best but I really like the behavior that they show.

Two males Long-billed Curlews
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!

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

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.

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.

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

Or here.

This frame makes me think of fencing, En garde!

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.

It certainly looked like the bird was going to leave.

And then the action started again.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Things seemed to be heating up.

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.

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

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!

Mia McPherson  OnTheWingPhotography.com


  1. Wow, how awesome and I found myself , holding my breath, geesh such wild behavior and hey both walked, or rather fly away. I have seen the young hawks get eye injury type of irritations and keep that lid closed, they can fly that way too. Great series, excellent~

  2. Menudo momentazo mas bien captada,enhorabuena por ello.Saludos

  3. ...incredible sequence, Mia! I love these gorgeous birds, and your captures of their behavior are fantastic. Love seeing this display. Glad you were in the right place at the right time to document it!

  4. Truly stunning Julie!
    Makes me wish I'd been there! :
    You've a fantastic reportage and quite rare indeed!
    I am very impressed!

  5. Wonderful photos again Mia! I have witnessed this type of behavior with Lesser Prairie Chicken, but I had no idea that Long-billed Curlews engaged in this behavior as well. Excellent photo series!

  6. Dramatic and beautiful! Great to see the color of that Curlew under-wing. What a cool bird! Thanks for capturing and sharing that with us Mia.

  7. What a wonderful and exciting sequence, Mia!

  8. A great series Mia. I love seeing photos of this kind of behavior.

  9. Great post Mia! Fascinating behavior to observe!

  10. Amazing photo series Mia, I love how you capture these behaviors in pictures. Super stuff.

  11. Thank you everyone, it was fun to watch this behavior!

  12. Absolutely, utterly FANTASTIC photos Mia. I can't imagine how many shots you took of this action!

  13. What a show! Would have loved to see this, but your terrific photos almost make up for not being there in person!

  14. Great series, so many pictures in capturing the curlews' behaviour.

  15. Oh my goodness, this is an amazing post, Mia! How fortunate that you were to be able to view such an exciting interaction between the curlews. These are fantastic behavior photographs! Outstanding!

  16. Absolutely amazing! what a sight to see! You certainly were in the right place at the right time! Wow! these are breath-taking images! Who knew they fought like this!