The Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis) is widely believed to be extinct. It formerly bred in the treeless high Arctic tundra from western Alaska to northwestern Canada and wintered in the pampas grasslands of central Argentina and southern Brazil. In spring, migrating Eskimo Curlews returned to the Arctic via the North American prairies, mainly west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rockies. In late summer, they moved eastward to staging areas from coastal Labrador to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, where they fed almost exclusively on berries (especially crowberries) and snails. After putting on adequate fat reserves, the curlews would continue on to their wintering grounds in southern South America, some of them possibly stopping over in Bermuda or the West Indies but others probably continuing non-stop to South America. The species was apparently always rare in North America south of Long Island. During migration, Eskimo Curlews were almost always associated with American Golden Plovers (Pluvialis dominica).
This species was at one time extraordinarily abundant, with enormous flocks of migrating Eskimo Curlews darkening the skies of the North American Great Plains in spring en route to their Arctic breeding grounds and in fall en route from their breeding grounds to their fall staging grounds in eastern Canada. However, between 1850 and 1875 market and sport hunting ravaged the population and the Eskimo Curlew was nearly extinct by the early 20th century. In addition to intense hunting pressure, possible causes that have been suggested as having exacerbated this radical decline include suppression of wildfires (burned areas were favored in spring) and the extinction of the Rocky Mountain Locust, an important spring food. The last confirmed Eskimo Curlew records were a bird photographed in Texas in the spring of 1962 and one shot in Barbados in September of 1963.
(Kaufman 1996; O'Brien et al. 2006)
- Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
- O'Brien, M., R. Crossley, and K. Karlson. 2006. The Shorebird Guide. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
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