Eskimo Curlew: 20th Century Bird

Bringing this extinct bird back to life through illustration began as a personal endeavor and evolved into an investigation into endangered species of North America. The project developed after observing Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis) specimens at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. This is part of a series for publication regarding the life of the Eskimo Curlew, formerly one of the most abundant birds in North America. Further assistance from the Director Emeritus of the Slater Museum of Natural History, Tacoma, WA, enabled the study of their specimens from which measurements could be made and details noted.

My aim is to provide a spark, to awaken curiosity and invite questions, to promote an appreciation of the complexity of nature and to foster a desire to protect it.

My personal interest in this project stemmed from my husband, T. Ben Feltner, who re-discovered the Eskimo Curlew on Galveston Island, March 22, 1959. This sighting stirred the ornithological world and encouraged research for further evidence that the birds might have a viable population. Despite diligence on the part of many searchers along the Texas Coast, the last confirmed record in the contiguous U.S. occurred when two birds appeared on Galveston Island in late March 1962 and left a few weeks later in early April. The last bird collected was on Barbados in 1963. The Eskimo Curlew is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, but is thought now to be extinct.

Without personal knowledge of having seen a living Eskimo Curlew, research began by investigating resources that would supply me with crucial information that would support the creation of a now-extinct bird. The specimen details from Dr. Dennis Paulson of the Slater Museum of Natural History, also a renowned shorebird expert, was an immense help in this research. My experience as a long-time birder and bird artist allowed me to build the bird using Whimbrels as models. Whimbrels are common shorebirds that could be easily studied for general body structure, balance and posture. The illustrations could be built from the measurements of museum specimens, and of course, listening to first-hand knowledge from one of the few people alive today who has observed the living bird.

2018 Guild of Natural Science Illustrators Annual Juried Exhibition, American Association for the Advancement of Science Gallery, Washington, D.C. July-October 2018.

The larger, lower image of the Eskimo Curlew will also be represented as part of the Silent Skies Mural of Artists for Conservation to be exhibited at the 27th International Ornithological Congress, August 2018 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Collection of R.A. Rowlett and R. Webster

Description: Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis)
Medium: Transparent Watercolor
Size: 10.5” w x 14.5”h
Archival Print: $95.00