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One last go-round for Eskimo Curlew

Via DC Birding Blog

The US Fish & Wildlife Service announced this past week that were going to be making an effort in the coming year to seek information about and consider all recent reports of the Eskimo Curlew in order to make a formal decision as to whether the species should continue to be classified as endangered or whether it should be formally designated as extinct

The wildlife inquiry, to be conducted by the service's Alaska scientists, is the first such formal review of the Eskimo curlew under the Endangered Species Act, Woods said. The bird was listed as endangered prior to passage of the act. such reviews are typically completed within 12 months.

Brendan Cummings, senior attorney with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, said he hopes the bird continues to be listed as endangered and not written off as extinct.

Continued listing will cost little and could help protect far-north habitat home to other birds and wildlife, he said.

"While I have my doubts, I think it would be premature to close the coffin lid on the species," Cummings said.

Cummings makes a interesting point as to the importance of encouraging the protection of Alaskan (and for that matter Canadian) tundra, but one hopes that justification for conservation is not so flimsy as to be dependent on the presence of a species not convincingly recorded in nearly 30 years.  In any case, barring a sighting that would arguably be the most exciting bird record in several decades, this year will likely see the book closed for the final time for Numenius borealis.

A sad, but perhaps necessary, moment, and hopefully one not in vain.  There's certainly no shortage of birds that need help right now.

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Nate Swick

Nate Swick

Editor, Social Media Manager at American Birding Association
Nate Swick is the editor of the American Birding Association Blog, social media manager for the ABA, and the host of the American Birding Podcast. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Danielle, and two young children. He is the author of Birding for the Curious and The ABA Field Guide to Birds of the Carolinas.
Nate Swick

Latest posts by Nate Swick (see all)

  • I hope they don’t find any curlews…

    In a perfect world, we’d focus on protecting ecosystems rather than species in crisis. The Endangered Species Act, while revolutionary 40 years ago, has never been significantly expanded or improved upon since then. It’s based on crisis management and “what’s the least we can do?”

    Congress made an end run relative to wolves, when the politics of ranching came up against science and the letter of the law.

    Rather than increase funding, money was shifted away from other endangered species project when Ivory-billed Woodpeckers were (allegedly) rediscovered.

    If an Eskimo Curlew should be found, it will hit the news, shift priorities and take funding away from forest ecosystems for Marbled Murrelets and Spotted Owls, ecosystems in the desert southwest and along the coast under pressure from developers. USFWS would have to further subdivide an already inadequate budget, because there’s no way the current congress is going to expand efforts to protect endangered species.

    Even if the Eskimo Curlew has escaped extinction in some tiny plot of tundra somewhere up in the Great White North, they’re safer undiscovered. Let’s find a reason to protect the ecosystem without the distractions of a dying celebrity.

  • I’m not an experienced birder, but I’m up for giving the ESKIMO CURLEW one last shot and being or not being. My big, thick Nat Geo reference states ‘probably extinct’. Twice.

    “The two most likely places to search for this bird are along the upper Texas coast from late March through mid-April and along the Labrador coast August through September”. (NatGeo, 2006, p.203)

    What the hey, even I know a WHIMBREL when I see one, so differentiating between the two should not be a problem. And, since I bird this area, I’d be for supporting one last effort to contribute to the birds’ existence or not.

    Arnie Hauswald
    ABA Member

  • It’s been more like 50 years, alas.

  • Karl Stecher

    I haven’t given up on this species, and was in Labrador in late August 4(?) years ago looking. I’d gladly go back, and have more focused ideas.
    I’ve been through the specimens at the MCZ (Harvard) and compared them with the little curlew, which I saw and photographed 20+ years ago at Gambell, Alaska.
    I don’t think finding this bird would detract from funding and interest in other wildlife…just like the ivory-billed experience, I think it would excite the public. But I am of course aware of current budgetary “skimpiness.”
    I also have ideas for two more locations to be searched.
    Congress? Budget? If I say anything, it will stir up partisan bickering…nonetheless, please note that all budgets for the last 4 years (including this one) have been in the hands of the Democrats…who failed to present one for 2011 when it was due, before Oct 15 2010, and have still failed to present one. So we’re into congressional and presidential wrangling now as a result.

    Karl Stecher
    Colorado

  • Nate, thanks for bringing this to our attention. I didn’t know about it.

    FYI, we’ll be running a feature article on Eskimo Curlew in the September 2011 Birding. Don’t want to spill the beans quite yet, but the article is by a major figure in ornithology; many of you will be surprised!

    Looks like Birding/ABA and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will want to be in touch w/one another about this. My guess is, USF&WS doesn’t know about the upcoming Birding article. But what do I know?

  • I sure hope they’re alive and I don’t think it would detract from other concerns, but enhance them. If we find them, then we can actually work on preserving them and their environment, thus helping many species at once. I don’t think the problem is finding them, it’s confirming the sightings. I have heard of many recent sightings, including some from experienced ornithologists and birdwatchers with good field notes, but they still weren’t able to be confirmed.

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