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Eskimo Curlew

Numenius borealis

Description

A medium-sized bird (approximately 12 inches), the Eskimo Curlew had warm brown or cinnamon colored feathers with white speckles. Its primary wing feathers were solid colored. Like other curlews, it had a long, slender bill which curved markedly downward. As a shore bird, it had long legs that facilitated wading in shallow water to feed. Its legs could be a variety of colors ranging from dark green to grey to dark blue-grey. 

Range

The range of the Eskimo curlew was wide. They spent their summers in the tundra of the Canadian artic and Alaska. In late summer (likely August), they migrated east to central Canada where they stop to feed and gain weight. In early fall they began their two-month migration through the prairies of central United States (including Nebraska) to the Pampas grasslands of South America.

Diet

The diet of the Eskimo curlew consisted entirely of insects and invertebrates. During migration, they fed mainly on grasshoppers, grasshopper eggs, grubs and snails.

Habitat

The Eskimo Curlew was a true grassland bird. They lived in the shortgrass tundra during their summer breeding season, migrated through the prairies of the central United State and spent winters in the pampas grasslands of South America.

Reproduction

The nest of the Eskimo Curlew consisted of a shallow nest in the bare ground of the Artic tundra. One clutch of typically 4 eggs were laid each summer. Eggs hatched in late June or early July. It is believed that both parents cared for the young. Chicks were precocial, meaning they could leave the nest relatively soon after hatching.

Population Status

In the mid 1800’s, enormous flocks of eskimo curlews could be seen migrating across the prairies of central United States. One record indicates that a single flock of eskimo curlews in Nebraska covered 40-50 acres.

Between 1870 and 1890, unregulated hunting dramatically reduced the numbers of eskimo curlews. Its behavior of traveling in large flocks and its apparent lack of fear of humans made the bird an easy target.

Although hunting of non-game birds became illegal in 1917 due to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the population of eskimo curlews was unable to recover. It is likely that conversion of prairies into cropland in both its wintering grounds in South America as well as across its migration path in central United States contributed to the species lack of recovery.

The last known eskimo curlew was seen (and shot) on Barbados in 1963. This specimen is now on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Natural History. There was one confirmed sighting in 1981 in Texas, but all other reports since then have been unconfirmed. 

The eskimo curlew was officially placed on the Endangered Species List in 1967.

Management and Outlook

Although much work is being done to conserve the prairies of the central United State for other birds, no specific conservation work is being done for the eskimo curlew.

The eskimo curlew has never been officially designated as extinct. Nevertheless, most conservation biologists believe the eskimo curlew is extinct.

Conservation Help

Unfortunately there is nothing to be done the change the fate of the eskimo curlew. Its sad story can, however, serve as a call-to-action for other at risk species. More research on at-risk species is critical to ensuring these species do not continue their population declines. Additionally, donating funds to conservation organizations whose mission is to conserve land, habitat and specific species can serve as a way for individuals to help.

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