The Longest Beak

No mudpecker can compete with the Long-Billed Curlew when it comes to probing deep. The Marbled Godwit can go deeper than its beak by burying its head. But the Curlew can do the same thing.  I would estimate that nothing less than six inches below the surface is safe from this bird.

What puzzles me is how the mud foragers know where to plunge their proboscis.  Some of the short-billed ones, like Sanderlings and Least Sandpipers, seem to operate purely at random:  peck a lot everywhere and you’ll get something now and then.  They can get away with that because it doesn’t take a lot of energy to peck down half an inch.  But penetrating the mud layer to a depth of three, four, five, or more inches costs a lot of calories.  These long-billed birds must see clues on the surface that something interesting lies below.  Do they see little bubbles, or little craters or mounds?  It would be interesting to have a tight view from above as a long-billed bird forages.

This curlew worked the delta below the Schoolhouse Creek outfall, a very popular place for shorebirds at low tide.  I hadn’t seen a curlew here since March 5, where I mused over the same questions as today.

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