A recent trip to the New Brunswick Museum gave me an opportunity to view mounts of the Eskimo Curlew. This species has always interested me because I still hold some hope that a few may still exist. We birders should be aware of it especially in our fall shorebird trips here in Atlantic Canada.The Eskimo Curlew formerly bred in the far north from Alaska to Nunavut. It wintered in the grasslands of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. It migrated north in the spring through the Central flyway and back south in the fall through northern Quebec, Labrador, Atlantic Canada and out over the ocean to South America. Preferred habitats were grasslands, tundra, burned prairie and meadows.
|Eskimo Curlew (A Thorburn painting)|
|Eskimo Curlew (JJ Audubon painting)|
We do not have good photos of this species, hence see the paintings above. The Eskimo is a small curlew. It is so much smaller than our Whimbrel that it would not be mistaken for it unless one had no means of comparison. The decurved bill makes it a curlew. Significant field marks include its size (36 cm/14 in) [compared to Whimbrel which is 45 cm/17.5 in], more muted head pattern than the Whimbrel with indistinct crown stripe, entirely dark lores, dark upper parts with buff-edged feathers giving a mottled look, underparts buff with steaks on the neck and prominent chevrons on the sides, wings projecting beyond the tail, underwings cinnamon. It is distinguished from the Little Curlew by the dark lores, darker underwing, more heavily marked flanks, more curved bill and it is slightly larger. The Whimbrel and Bristle-thighed Curlew are much larger and the Eskimo Curlew has a more muted head pattern and cinnamon under the wing.
|Long-billed Curlew, Eskimo Curlew|
The photo above is of museum specimens. Note how much smaller the Eskimo Curlew is than the Long-billed Curlew.
In the photo above note the streaking on the neck and the heavy chevron pattern on the sides. The dark lores distinguish it from the Little Curlew.
The central stripe on the head is much more muted than on the Whimbrel.
Both illustrations above show the mottled feathers on the back. The buff edging to the feathers is very evident.
The Eskimo Curlew is probably extinct but is still listed as endangered. Its population was once very large but declined because of over-hunting during the late 1800s and loss of habitat and food sources (grasshoppers, berries). The last confirmed report was of one shot in the Barbados in Sept., 1963. Prior to that a few were seen on the upper Texas coast in the fall. IBirdPro reports reliable records from the 1980s.
The Eskimo Curlew was first described by Johann Reinhold in 1772. It most likely was one of the two species mentioned by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage as he approached North America, the other being the American Golden-Plover. Although a sighting is very unlikely today, we need to be watching our blueberry fields, the plains on Miscou and our east coast shorelines in September in case a few of these birds still exist.