Eskimo curlew: Numenius borealis

Taxonomic Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Scolopacidae
Genus/Species: Numenius borealis
Common Name: Eskimo curlew

Listing Status

Federal Status: Endangered
FL Status: Federally-designated Endangered
FNAI Ranks: Not ranked
IUCN Status: CR (Critically Endangered)

Physical Description

The Eskimo curlew is the smallest curlew in North America, only reaching a length of 14 inches (35.6 centimeters) with a wingspan of 27 inches (68.6 centimeters) (National Audubon Society, n.d.).  Eskimo curlews have a downward curved bill, yellow belly, dark crown with a pale stripe, brown back, “V” shaped markings on the chest and flank, and bluish-gray legs (Alaska Department of Fish and Game, n.d.). 

Life History

The diet of the Eskimo curlew primarily consists of berries, insects, and crustaceans (Alaska Department of Fish and Game, n.d.).

Reproduction information on the Eskimo curlew is limited.  Breeding occurs between the months of May and August in treeless arctic tundra (BirdLife International 2011).  A depression in the bare ground is used for a nesting site.  Females lay one clutch of four eggs each year.  It is believed that both parents share incubation duties.  Fledging occurs shortly after hatching.

Habitat and Distribution

Eskimo Curlew Distribution MapEskimo curlews nest in the arctic tundra in Alaska and northwest Canada and spend the winter feeding in grasslands in Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil (Alaska Department of Fish and Game, n.d.).  This species can also be found in tallgrass prairie from Texas through the Midwest during migration (National Audubon Society, n.d.).  In 1960, there was a sighting at Merritt Island (Brevard County); however, this sighting was never confirmed (Stevenson and Anderson 1994).  Eskimo curlews are not known to occur in Florida.


Loss of habitat has contributed to the possible extinction of this species.  Population declines began in the mid 19th century as tall prairies in the Midwest states were converted to agriculture fields (National Audubon Society, n.d.).  This along with fire suppression caused the extinction of the Rocky Mountain grasshopper, which was a primary food source for the Eskimo curlew (National Audubon Society, n.d.).  Overhunting also contributed to the possible extinction of this species.  From 1850-1900, Eskimo curlews were hunted for 11 months each year, which led to the death of tens of thousands of Eskimo curlews (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service 2006).  Other historical threats included disease and predation (New York Department of Environmental Conservation, n.d.).

Conservation and Management

The Eskimo curlew is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  It is also protected as an Endangered species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Endangered species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule External Website.

Other Informative Links

Alaska Department of Fish and Game External Website
BirdLife International External Website
New York Department of Environmental Conservation External Website
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service External Website



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Alaska Department of Fish and Game. (n.d.). Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis).  Retrieved July 26, 2011 : External Website

BirdLife International (2011) Species factsheet: Numenius borealis. Downloaded from External Website on 26/07/2011.

New York Department of Environmental Conservation. (n.d.). Eskimo Curlew Fact Sheet. Retrieved July 26, 2011 : External Website

Stevenson, H.M., and B.H. Anderson. 1994. The Birdlife of Florida. Univ. Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.


Image Credit Photo courtesy of USFWS

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