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Eskimo Curlew Fact Sheet

Eskimo Curlew
Numenius borealis

New York Status: Endangered
Federal Status: Endangered


Drawing of Eskimo Curlew

Once called a "doughbird" for the thick layer of fat developed for migration, the eskimo curlew is a long-legged wading bird resembling a whimbrel. Measuring 12-14 inches (30-36 cm) in length and weighing 1 pound (.45 kg), adults are mottled brown on the back, with a white throat and yellowish-buff undersides. A buff-white eyebrow divides the dark crown from the eyeline and the bill is thin, curving downward over its 2 inch length. Cinnamon colored wing linings are visible in flight and the stilt-like legs are dark green to blackish-gray. In the spring, it feeds robin-like on berries and insects, especially ants, grasshoppers and their eggs. Snails are added to the menu in the winter. The voice is a melodious, whistling "tee-tee-tee."

Life History

Eskimo curlews return from the wintering grounds in early May to June. Their well camouflaged nest is a hollow in the ground lined with leaves or straw. The clutch consists of 3-4 eggs which are usually brownish-green to blue. The periods for incubation and fledging are unknown.

Distribution and Habitat

Eskimo curlews breed in the northern Mackenzie (Northwest Canada), on wetlands north of the tree line, in open tundra and on tidal marshes. Preferred breeding habitats are fields, pastures, and the drier parts of salt and brackish marshes, as well as coastal beaches and vegetated dunes. During migration, populations move south and east to gather on the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland before flying offshore in route to South American wintering grounds.


Eskimo curlews are extremely rare. Breeding grounds occur in areas well beyond normal human encroachment and many biologists believe eskimo curlews are close to extinction. By the early part of this century, this species was already considered rare. Predation and disease were the primary causes of the decline, although excessive hunting on migration routes and in South America during the late 1800's also had an impact.

Management and Research Needs

Information on this species is incomplete. Protection of remaining populations is paramount, but recovery strategies for this species have not been devised since they breed and winter in such remote areas. Shorebird specialists with the American Ornithologists' Union have recommended immediate protection and management of known stopover sites along migration routes in the west. The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of forming a recovery team to aid in the conservation of this rare species.

Additional References

Bull, J. and J. Farrand, Jr. 1977. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin and D. Wheye. 1988. The Birder's Handbook. Simon and Schuster, Inc., New York. p.122.

Matthews, J. R., ed. 1990. The Official World Wildlife Fund Guide to Endangered Species of North America. Library of Congress, Washington, DC

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