Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version

August 1980


Published in Natural History 89:8 (Aug 1980), pp. 30-33. Copyright © 1980 American Museum of Natural History. Used by permission.


After a period of limited optimism, ornithologists are again in a state of uncertainty and doubt as to the existence of the elusive Eskimo Curlew. In spite of the ever increasing activities of bird watchers, no sightings have been reported from the Texas coast in the last decade, and the present status of this ill-fated bird is impossible to judge. Most of the persons who have summarized its sad story have come to the conclusion that uncontrolled hunting, particularly spring hunting in the Great Plains, was the single most important factor in its demise. Richard C. Banks of the U.S. National Museum has recently reviewed the history of the species’ decline, and although he agrees that hunter overkill was doubtless an important factor, he suggests it may not have been the only one. Several climatic factors, including an increase in fall storms along the North Atlantic coast and possibly lowered reproductive success on arctic nesting grounds in the late 1880s during a period of unusually cool summers, could also have contributed to increased mortality and lowered reproductive rates. These speculations are interesting but inconclusive, and we are left in doubt about what, if anything, can be done to protect and preserve a species that at best seems nearly mythical and at worst may already be extinct.

Included in

Ornithology Commons