Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The failure of eastern Bald Eagles to produce young was part of the motivation
for Rachel Carson to write Silent Spring in 1962. The Peregrine Falcon
and Osprey, other species at the top of the food chain, collecting large burdens
of organochlorine pesticides such as DDT, were also on the verge of extirpation
throughout the eastern half of North America (Peregrine Falcon Populations,
their Biology and Decline, edited by Joseph J. Hickey, appeared in print
in 1969, reporting the results of a 1965 conference). As a result of widespread
concern, DDT was banned, and all three species are doing better, aided by management
and reintroduction programs.
Whooping Crane numbers reached a frightening low of only 19 wild birds in 1946.
A photo of these magnificent birds in flight by Saskatchewan's Fred Lahrman
was Canada's "News Photo of the Year" in 1953. The nesting grounds
of the few remaining birds were located in 1954. In response to much publicity,
the railway to Pine Point was re-routed at considerable expense, to avoid disturbing
the breeding cranes. Public interest has been steadily supportive and as a result
these birds are closely monitored, with extensive research and management programs.
The Whooping Crane now has an excellent chance of avoiding the fate of the Passenger
Why, then, has the Eskimo Curlew received so little attention, apart from Ontario
writer Fred Bodsworth's best-selling novel, The Last of the Curlews,
published in 1954? Why has there been no monograph to detail the history of
Once one of the most numerous birds in North America, the Eskimo Curlew has
hovered at the very brink of extinction ever since its drastic decline about
100 years ago. Although its extinction has been treated as a foregone conclusion,
this hasn't happened yet. In striking contrast to the larger, more easily identified
species mentioned above, virtually no money has been spent to study or protect
this bird. Apart from Bodsworth's book and one or two sightings a year by keen
birders, recorded in specialized journals of relatively small circulation, little
has been said about it or done on its behalf. No habitat change or pesticide
threat has been identified. The Eskimo Curlew has failed to excite the interest
of the general public.
The present monograph is an important contribution, since it adds another landmark
case history to the annals of species near extinction. We must learn from our
mistakes if we are to avoid perpetuating them, yet it is difficult to determine
what lesson is to be learned until we have collected and attempted to understand
the relevant facts. Gollop and his collaborators, Tom Barry and Eve Iversen,
deserve great credit for their thorough collation of the available observations,
from past through present, and their interpretations of this information. Such
a complete synthesis has never before been attempted.
The Canadian Wildlife Service has supported this endeavor in two important
ways: by the contributions of Bernie Gollop and Tom Barry, two of its research
scientists, and by financial support of this publication. Who knows? Perhaps
it is still not too late to rescue the Eskimo Curlew from oblivion!
C. Stuart Houston
863 University Drive
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N OJ8