Avian Cyrano de Bergerac- long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew
Lee Karney, US Fish & Wildlife Service
Long-billed Curlew in Flight
Cresent Lake NWR, US Fish & Wildlife Service

The Cyrano de Bergerac of the bird world is the long-billed curlew. Its bill is 9 inches long and curves downward at the tip. This 19-inch bird is the largest shorebird of North America. The long-billed curlew is cinnamon brown above and buff brown below. It is similar in size to a marbled godwit, but the bill of the godwit is shorter and turns up.

Like Cyrano, the long-billed curlew is shy. They arrive in Utah in mid-March, seeking open fields and grasslands away from trees, posts, power poles or any other perches of use to predators. They can been seen walking through fields, probing with their bill for worms, insects, spiders and even berries.

In breeding season the male repeatedly flies high, then glides downward, calling all the while.
[Kevin Colver, Songs of Yellowstone #9 Long-billed Curlew]

Like other shorebirds, their nest is just a shallow scrape on the ground, lightly lined with grass. Typically 4 eggs are laid. Both sexes incubate the eggs for about 2 weeks. The down covered young hatch with their eyes open and feed themselves. Two to three weeks after the chicks hatch, the female departs. Dad stays with his chicks until after they fledge when they are about 35 days old. Soon thereafter curlews flock up to migrate south. In mid July, they fly to California or Mexico, where they frequent coastal mudflats eating crabs and other aquatic life.

The long-billed curlew was once much more common. Market hunting in the 19th century and habitat loss more recently have reduced their numbers, but they persist in parts of Utah.

Thanks to Kevin Colver for the use of his recording.

To view pictures visit the Wildaboututah link on upr.org

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Photos: Courtesy Fish and Wildlife Service Online Digital Media Library


Audio: Dr. Kevin Colver, www.wildsanctuary.com & https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections

Text: Lyle Bingham, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Additional Reading:

Washington State Birdweb:

Long-billed curlew Numenius americanus, USGS Migratory Bird Research – Patuxent Wildlife Research Center,

Long-billed Curlew Satellite Tracking

Prairie Birds: Fragile Splendor in the Great Plains, Paul A. Johnsgard, 2001, University Press of Kansas, http://www.amazon.com/Prairie-Birds-Fragile-Splendor-Plains/dp/0700610677

Long-billed Curlew Mating flight (Video),

The Lizard and His Tail

Collared Lizard
Copyright © 2005 & Courtesy of Jerry Shue
Canyonlands Natural History Association

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

One of the most beautiful lizards I’ve ever seen lives right here in Utah. The collared lizard has a gold head, a green body and 2 black collar stripes. I stumbled upon one last week during a hike in Professor Valley north of Moab. It was just shy of a foot long from tip to tail, with most of that length in the tail. It bravely stood its ground as I crept closer to admire it. Instinctively, I wanted to reach down and catch it!

The urge to catch lizards seems to be innate. Maybe our ancient ancestors used to eat them and the desire to catch them is a relict evolutionary trait.

When you catch a lizard, you might just cause him to drop his tail. Tail dropping is a defense mechanism. In many species of lizard the tail has weak fracture planes between the vertebra, allowing the tail to detach easily. After breaking off, the thrashing tail attracts the would-be predator, enabling the lizard to escape. Some lizard tails are brightly colored, which enhances the decoy effect.

Unfortunately, there are serious consequences to losing one’s tail. A long tail acts as a counterbalance, enabling a lizard to lift its forelegs when running. This is important because a lizard can move more quickly on two legs than on four. A large lizard running on two legs can sprint up to 12 miles an hour!

Male lizards need their long tails for social status. Low status males have much more difficulty mating. Tail loss also might mean that a juvenile will have trouble acquiring a home range due to low social standing.
Finally, fat stored in a tail provides a food source during periods of starvation and reproduction.
With this in mind, I hope you can join me in my effort not to catch lizards. Let’s admire these wonderful creatures from a distance.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center I’m Holly Strand

This Wild About Utah topic was adapted from A Naturalist’s Guide to Canyon Country by David B. Williams, courtesy of the Canyonlands Natural History Association.

Thanks to the Sorrel River Ranch Resort and Spa for supporting the development of this Wild About Utah topic. The Ranch offers deluxe lodging and services on a scenic bend of the Colorado River, 20 minutes from Moab in the spectacular Professor Valley.


Images: Photo Copyright © 2005 & courtesy of Jerry Shue, Canyonlands Natural History Association

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Williams, David B. 2000. A Naturalist’s Guide to Canyon Country., Published jointly by the Globe Pequot Press and the Canyonlands Natural History Association.

Canyonlands Natural History Association http://www.cnha.org/

Short-tailed Bird of Perdition-Starlings

European Starling
Courtesy US FWS, Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Photographer
I’ll bet you’ve always wanted to know about starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), whose Latin name speaks volumes. They’re noisy, gregarious, messy and are blamed for forcing many hole-nesting birds, bluebirds and flickers, even an occasional kestrel, out of their nests for fun and profit. For this the starlings plead “no contest.” They spread across the United States and Canada like the plague after their introduction into New York City’s Central Park in the late 1800’s, just so we unwashed Americans could have the joy of being able to associate, up close and personal, with all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare. I think Pay Back by the Brits sums it up nicely, kind of like the Russians and cheat grass, halogeton, tamarisk and Russian thistle (tumbleweed).

So what can be said that could possibly redeem this rapid breeding invader whose short intestinal tract means they have to consume beaucoup amounts of food to survive? This is great during the summer when insects and creepy-crawlies are their favorite cuisine; it’s during the winter when man-produced food pellets meant for our livestock are like Quaker’s puffed rice or wheat, the digesta are “shot from guns”, another not so an endearing image of the starling. They cost feedlot owners and berry farmers hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. Imagine 100,000 and up to two million starlings descending on your holly orchard or your feedlot. Imagine them staying around for the winter. It’s not hard to imagine spreading Starlicide-treated pellets around your livestock.

Not to defend this image, especially after working with the little rounders for 14 years (six years with the Feds, eight years as a graduate research topic), but they showed me that I was working with quite an intelligent species. Observing these birds in the field, in large pens in Green Canyon and in Skinner boxes in the Experimental Psychology laboratory on USU’s campus, these birds made reasoned judgments concerning the food they ate, spatially and temporally learning to avoid poisoned food, teaching another the avoidance pattern they had learned, making decisions just like we do, thinking, learning from mistakes. We tried to eliminate them without success. We could try convincing them that eating at feedlots or orchards is a dangerous game and repel the little rounders. Whatever the case they are here to stay, but it would be nice if there weren’t quite so many.

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.


Photo: Courtesy US FWS, Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Photographer
Theme music: Trout and Berry Days, by Don Anderson and performed by Leaping Lulu
Text: C. Val Grant, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Voice Talent: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Listen for this Bird:

European Starling 1, European Starling 2, and European Starling 3, as recorded by Kevin Colver of https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections and found on the Western Soundscape Archive at the University of Utah. (Opens in a separate window.)

Additional Reading:

European Starling Identification, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University,

Mayntz, Melissa, European Starling Identification, The Spruce, September 17, 2020, https://www.thespruce.com/european-starling-identification-385980

European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, National Invasive Species Information Center, US Department of Agriculture (USDA), http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/animals/eurostarling.shtml

European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, Seattle Audubon Society, http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird_details.aspx?id=360

European Starling – Sturnus vulgaris, Utah Species, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utah, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=sturnus%20vulgaris

EPA R.E.D Facts–Starlicide(3-chloro-p-toluidine hydrochloride), US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),

Buttes & Mesas

Audio:  mp3 Listen to WildAboutUtah

Book Cliffs
Courtesy: Bureau of Land Management
US Dept. of the Interior

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Not long ago , driving from Logan to Moab, I was admiring the dramatic and austere landscape features from the highway. To the north were the vertical escarpments of the Book Cliffs—gray slopes and cliffs that extend all the way from Price, Utah, to Grand Junction, Colorado. Gazing at them from the highway, I wondered : Are they plateaus? mesas? buttes? Any self-respecting Utahn should know the difference between these terms. But even with a master’s degree in geography, the concepts had become fuzzy in my mind with the passage of time.

When I got back home, I turned to Home Ground, a collection of American landscape definitions edited by Barry Lopez. Here you’ll read that a plateau is an extensive area of nearly level land that rises abruptly above a surrounding landscape on at least one side. In this sense, the Tavaputs is a classic Utah plateau and the Book Cliffs form its south-facing escarpment. The Wasatch Plateau –home of the headwaters of the San Rafael and Fremont Rivers –is another classic plateau.

Professor Valley:
Dome Plateau is really a mesa
from Sorrel River Ranch
Courtesy Matt Ceniceros

Plateaus are sometimes called tablelands. This can be confusing, because plateaus aren’t necessarily elevated on all four sides and they are too big to look like tables. But mesas do look like tables and the word mesa means “table” in Spanish. A mesa is a flat-topped mountain or rock mass, usually capped with a layer of weather-resistant rock. In general, a mesa is smaller than a plateau, but the size difference between them is not defined in any absolute terms.

At least everyone seems to agree that a mesa is always wider than it is tall. A butte, on the other hand, is always taller than it is wide. At one point in its development, the butte was probably part of a mesa. Then, over time, the connecting rock eroded away. I’ve often heard buttes referred to as a mesa’s child, or orphan. As a child, the butte’s parent mesa still exists nearby ; erosion has removed an expanse of rock leaving two structures instead of one. When the butte is an orphan, the surrounding rock has been completely removed, leaving a solitary outpost of resistant geologic history.

Eventually, even with a resistant cap, a butte will be weathered down to a landform that is narrower than it is tall. Then it becomes a spire. Synonyms for a spire include tower, monolith or monument.

Close-up of Fisher Towers
in Professor Valley
Courtesy Utah Geological Survey

You’ll often find that a particular butte is called Such and Such Mesa, and a mesa may be called Such and Such Butte or Plateau. This is because local names given by early explorers and settlers stuck whether or not they were consistent with any accepted definition. Thus, in the cliff-rimmed Professor Valley northwest of Moab, Dome Plateau is really a mesa and Convent Mesa is really a butte. And Grand Mesa, to the east of Grand Junction, is a whole lot larger than Beckwith Plateau near Green River, UT.

For pictures of Utah plateaus, buttes and mesas, check out our web page: www.wildaboututah.org.
Thanks to the Sorrel River Ranch Resort and Spa for supporting the development of this Wild About Utah topic. The Ranch offers deluxe lodging and services on a scenic bend of the Colorado River, 20 minutes from Moab in the spectacular Professor Valley.

And to Dr. Jack Schmidt in the Watershed Sciences Dept. at Utah State University.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center I’m Holly Strand



  1. “Book Cliffs” Source: BLM
  2. “Professor Valley: Dome Plateau is really a mesa” Source: Sorrel River Ranch (Matt Ceniceros)
  3. “Professor Valley: Convent Mesa is really a butte” Source: Sorrel River Ranch (Matt Ceniceros)
  4. “Close-up of Fisher Towers in Professor Valley” Source: Utah Geological Survey

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, Barry Lopez, Debra Gwartney, 2006, Trinity University Press, San Antonio, TX