South Dakota Field Office
Mountain-Prairie Region
Eskimo Curlew
Numenius borealis


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picture of Eskimo curlew

In the mid-1800's, huge flocks of Eskimo Curlew migrated north from South America to their nesting grounds in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic. Historic reports tell of the skies being full of Eskimo Curlews as they migrated through the prairie states and provinces. During migration, they fed on grasshoppers and other insects on the grasslands of the central United States.

Between 1870 and 1890, unrestricted hunting rapidly reduced populations of Eskimo Curlew. Considered very good to eat, the birds were killed by thousands of market hunters, just as the Passenger Pigeon had been years earlier. The curlew's lack of fear and habit of travelling in large flocks made it an easy target.

Date of Listing:

Endangered, 1967

Reason for Concern:

In 1916, nongame bird hunting in the United States was stopped by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but the Eskimo Curlew did not recover. Conversion of native grasslands to cropland, in the South American wintering area and along the migration route through the tall grass prairies of the United States, is thought to be the reason for the birds' failure to recover.


12 inches in length


Grasshoppers and their eggs, grubs, cutworms

Habitat (where it lives):

Variety of grassland habitats


The Eskimo curlew formerly migrated through the Great Plains area in the spring. It migrates from breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra through the North American prairies to wintering grounds on the Pampas grasslands of Argentina.


Nest is a shallow depression in the ground on open Arctic tundra

Population Numbers:

Thought to be very close to extinction; only about 70 Eskimo Curlews have been seen in the last 50 years

Interesting Fact:

An historic report of a single flock feeding in Nebraska was said to have covered 40 to 50 acres of ground

Information obtained from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

USFWS Eskimo Curlew Species Profile page

Last updated: September 9, 2013

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