Eskimo Curlew

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Eskimo Curlew
Conservation status: Critical
Scientific classification
Species:N. borealis
Binomial name
Numenius borealis
(Forster, 1772)

The Eskimo Curlew or Northern Curlew, Numenius borealis, is (or possibly was) a medium-sized shorebird.

Adults have long dark greyish legs and a long bill curved slightly downwards. The top parts are mottled brown and the underparts are light brown. They show cinnamon wing linings in flight. They are similar in appearance to the Whimbrel, but smaller in size.

Eskimo Curlew forms a species pair with the Asian Little Curlew, Numenius minutus, but is slightly larger, longer-winged, shorter legged and warmer in plumage tone than its close relative.

Their breeding habitat is the tundra of western arctic Canada and Alaska. Nests are located in open areas on the ground and are difficult to locate.

Eskimo Curlews migrate to Argentina. They were formerly very rare vagrants to western Europe, but there have, of course, been no recent records.

These birds pick up food by sight, also feeding by probing. They mainly eat berries and insects, also snails during migration.

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 sighting was in 1962 in Texas; with a specimen collected in Barbados in 1963. There was an unconfirmed report of 23 birds in Texas in 1981, and more recent additional unconfirmed reports from Texas, Canada, and Argentina. This bird is certainly at risk, if not already extinct.

A comparison of dates and migratory patterns leads to the conclusion that Eskimo curlews and American Golden plovers were the most likely shore birds to have attracted the attention of Christopher Columbus to nearby land after 65 days at sea out of sight of land on his first voyage. In the 1800's millions of Eskimo Curlew followed migration routes from the present Yukon and Northwest Territories, flying east along the northern shore of Canada, then south to South America in the winter.

The plight of this bird inspired the novel (and subsequent animated film) Last of the Curlews.

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