Audubon Centennial Edition  The Birds of America

Plate: 220
Piping Plover
Plate: 223
Pied oyster-catcher
Plate: 263
Curlew Sandpiper
Plate: 231
Long billed Curlew
Plate: 288
Yellow Shank
Plate: 268
American Woodcock
Eskimo Curlew
Havell Name   Havell Plate No.   Paper Size
Esquimaux Curlew 208 28" x 39"
Common Name Price Image Size
Eskimo Curlew $ 600 11" x 18"


Ornithological Biography
I regret that I am unable to present a complete history of the Esquimaux Curlew. It is true I might somewhat enlarge my account of its habits, were I to borrow from others, but as I have resolved to confine myself to the results of my own observation, unless in certain cases, in which I always take care to give my authorities, I hope you will be pleased with the little which I have to offer.

Previous to my voyage to Labrador, I had seen only a single bird of this species, which was kindly given me by my learned friend WILLIAM OAKES, Esq. of Ipswich, Massachusetts, who had procured it in his immediate neighbourhood, where, as I have since ascertained, the Esquimaux Curlew spends a few days in early autumn, while on its way southward. During their short stay in that State, they are met with on the high sandy hills near the sea-shore, where they feed on the grasshoppers and on several kinds of berries. On this food they become fat, so as to afford excellent eating, in consequence of which they have probably acquired the name of “Dough-bird,” which they bear in that district, but which is also applied to several other birds. How this species manages to cross the whole extent of the United States without being seen after leaving Massachusetts, is to me very wonderful. On one occasion only have I ever had a glimpse of it. I was in company with my learned and generous friend JOHN BACHMAN of Charleston, on one of the islands on the coast of South Carolina, whither we had gone with the view of watching the Long-billed Curlews (Numenius longirostris). It was at the dawn of a fine day, when a dense flock of the northern curlews passed to the southward, near enough to enable us to ascertain the species, but so swiftly, that in a few minutes they were quite out of sight.

On the 29th of July, 1833, during a thick fog, the Esquimaux Curlews made their first appearance in Labrador, near the harbour of Brag d’Or. They evidently came from the north, and arrived in such dense flocks as to remind me of the Passenger Pigeons. The weather was extremely cold as well as foggy. For more than a week we had been looking for them, as was every fisherman in the harbour, these birds being considered there, as indeed they are, great delicacies. The birds at length came, flock after flock, passed close round our vessel, and directed their course toward the sterile mountainous tracts in the neighbourhood; and as soon as the sun’s rays had dispersed the fogs that hung over the land, our whole party went off in search of them.

I was not long in discovering that their stay on this coast was occasioned solely by the density of the mists and the heavy gales that already gave intimation of the approaching close of the summer; for whenever the weather cleared up a little, thousands of them set off and steered in a straight course across the broad Gulf of St. Lawrence. On the contrary, when the wind was high, and the fogs thick, they flew swiftly and low over the rocky surface of the country, as if bewildered. Wherever there was a spot that seemed likely to afford a supply of food, there the Curlews abounded, and were easily approached. By the 12th of August, however, they had all left the country.

In Labrador they feed on what the fishermen call the Curlew-berry, a small black fruit growing on a creeping shrub, not more than an inch or two in height, and so abundant, that patches of several acres covered the rocks here and there. When the birds were in search of these feeding-grounds, they flew in close masses, sometimes high, at other times low, but always with remarkable speed, and performing beautiful evolutions in the air. The appearance of man did not seem to intimidate them, for they would alight so near us, or pass over our heads at so short a distance, that we easily shot them. While on wing, they emitted an oft repeated soft whistling note, but the moment they alighted they became silent. They ran swiftly along, all in the same direction, picking up the berries in their way, and when pursued, would immediately squat in the manner of a Snipe or Partridge, sometimes even laying their neck and head quite flat on the ground, until you came within a short distance, when, at the single whistle of any one of the flock, they would all immediately scream and fly off, rambling about for awhile, and not unfrequently re-alighting on the same spot. Now and then, however, their excursion would last a long time, they would rise high in the air, make towards the sea, and, as if aware of the unfavourable state of the weather for pursuing their southward course, would return.

They continued to arrive at Bras d’Or for several days, in flocks which seemed to me to increase in number. I saw no Hawks in their rear, and I was the more astonished at this, that at that period Pigeon Hawks and other species were pretty abundant.

They rose from the ground by a single quick spring, in the manner of a Snipe, when they would cut backward, forward, and all around, in a very curious manner, and would now and then pause in the air, like a Hawk, remaining stationary for a few moments with their head meeting the wind, when immediately afterwards they would all suddenly alight. In calm and fair weather, they were more shy than at other times. While on their passage across the Gulf, they flew high in close bodies, and with their usual speed, by no means in regular lines, nor in any order, but much in the manner of the Migratory Pigeon, now and then presenting a broad front, and again coming together so as to form a close body.

Those which we procured were extremely fat and juicy, especially the young birds, of which we ate a good many. Mr. JONES, an old settler of Bras d’Or, and his son, shoot a great number every season, which they salt for winter food. They informed us that these birds pass over the same tract about the middle of May, on their way northward, and that they never found them breeding in their neighbourhood. Little difference could be observed at that season between the males and females, or between the old and young birds.


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