Eskimo Curlew – The Rarest Wader in the world
Like the passenger pigeon, the eskimo curlew (Numenius borealis) was once extremely numerous, but was brought to the verge of extinction largely through excessive hunting. It was renowned for its great abundance and delicious flavour and was shot in vast numbers in the USA while on migration from tundra breeding grounds to South American winter quarters.
In the mid-19th century immense flocks were encountered on the Texas coast and as late as 1863 over 7,000 were shot in one day on Nantucket Island (Massachusetts) alone. There were no large flocks at all after the 1880s and the possibility of extinction was raised as early as 1900.
Eskimo Curlew Bird Habitat and Diet
It seems likely that habitat destruction also contributed significantly to the decline as much grassland with its associated food supply was lost to agriculture along the bird’s migration route.
The main breeding area was on the tundra of northern Mackenzie (North-West Territory), west to western Alaska and possibly east-wards to Norton Sound. In the autumn the bird flew south-east to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia where, among other things, it fed voraciously on ripe crowberries before working its way down the New England coast.
By the start of the migration it had put on so much weight, it was nicknamed ‘dough-bird’ because the skinned breast revealed a thick layer of fat resembling dough. It needed good reserves of energy before making its arduous journey across the western Atlantic to winter in southern Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay and on the pampas of Argentina.
Facts about the World’s Rarest Wader
Much smaller than the common Eurasian curlew, the 30.5—37.5 cm (12—14.8 in) eskimo curlew is not especially conspicuous and it was easy for the tiny remnant population to go unnoticed for many years: some recent authorities even considering the species extinct.
However, some have been seen on migration in the last few years and there is growing evidence of breeding success although no breeding sites are known at present, all previous records having come from northern Canada. The species has been recorded in 22 years since 1945. All sightings were for North America except a 1963 Barbados specimen and a 1977 Guatemala sighting. Usually, just one or two birds were seen, and never more than six together except for a group of 23 in Texas in 1981.