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Eskimo Curlew (Northern Curlew)

The Eskimo Curlew or Northern Curlew (Numenius borealis), is a medium-sized New World shorebird and is thought to be extinct. At one time, the Eskimo Curlew may have been one of the most numerous shorebirds in North America with a population in the millions. As many as 2 million birds per year were killed near the end of the 19th century. The last confirmed sightings were on Galveston Island, Texas in 1962 (photographed) and on Barbados in 1963 (captured specimen). Although believed to be extinct, it is fully protected in Argentina, Canada, United States, and Mexico. Hunting has been outlawed since 1916.

In the 1800s millions of Eskimo Curlews followed migration routes from the present Yukon and Northwest Territories, flying east along the northern shore of Canada, then south over the Atlantic Ocean to South America in the winter. When returning to North America, they would fly north through the Great Plains. They were rare vagrants to western Europe. They bred on the tundra of western Canada and Alaska.

Adults had long dark grayish legs and a long bill curved slightly downwards. The upperparts were mottled brown and the under parts were light brown. They showed cinnamon wing linings in flight. They were similar in appearance to the Hudsonian Curlew, the American subspecies of the Whimbrel, but smaller in size. In the field, the only certain way to distinguish the Eskimo Curlew is its unbarred undersides of the primaries. The call is poorly understood, but includes clear whistling sounds. One of the most important food sources was the Rocky Mountain Locust. This species extinction circa 1902 may be a partial cause of the Eskimo Curlew’s decline.

Eskimo Curlew Northern Curlew


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