National Geographic : 1915 Aug
HUDSONIAN CURLEW (Numenits hudsonicus) (See page 132). Range: Breeds on coast of Alaska from mouth of Yukon to Kotzebue Sound, and on coast of northern Mackenzie; winters from lower California to southern Honduras, from Ecuador to southern Chile, and from British Guiana to mouth of Amazon. Within the memory of many still living, the jack curlew, as this bird is best known to sportsmen, was the least abundant of the three species of curlew here mentioned. To-day it is the most numerous if, indeed, we still may speak of the Eskimo curlew as a living species. The journeys of the jack curlew north and south rarely take it into the interior, and except when nesting, it sticks rather closely to the vicinity of salt water. It is difficult to explain just why this curlew should have maintained its numbers so well when its relatives have been so reduced, but persecution has taught it the art of self protection and it is now no easy matter to bag a Hudsonian curlew. Then, too, its inaccessible nesting-grounds aid in its preservation, although in this respect it is no better off than was the Eskimo curlew, while the latter bird had the advantage of an oversea route to South America. It is possible, however, that, while the passage over the ocean saved the Eskimo cur lew from the onslaught of sportsmen, except in easterly storms which drove it in large flocks on our coast, it exposed the flocks to the fury of the elements during off-shore gales. The bristle-thigh, our fourth species of curlew, is little known in America. It certainly summers and probably breeds in Alaska, and in fall disperses widely over the South Pacific islands. It is one of the few water birds that winter in con siderable numbers in Hawaii. ESKIMO CURLEW (Numenius borealis) (See page 132). Range: Breeds on the barren grounds of northern Mackenzie; winters in Argentina and Patagonia. The Eskimo curlew is an interesting example of the rapidity with which a game bird, apparently numerous enough to defy fate, may be suddenly swept off the face of the earth. Forty years ago, and even less, as many witnesses besides myself can testify, Eskimo curlews might often be found in the markets of Boston, New York, and other large eastern cities, and apparently no one then had a sus picion that the species was nearing its end. Audubon, speaking of his experience in Labrador in 1833, likened the numbers of this curlew to the flocks of passenger pigeons, and as late as 1830 Packard noted a flock in Labrador which was perhaps a mile long and nearly as broad. Not many years ago the fishermen of Labrador and Newfoundland were salting them down by the barrelful for winter's con sumption. Because of its uncommon fatness and the excellence of its meat, it was generally known in New England as the "dough bird." No doubt these qualities were the chief cause of the curlew's extinction. Thus the very qualities that should have insured the perpetuation of the species for the benefit of posterity led to its destruction by our improvident selves. The bird is spoken of here as extinct since, to all intents and purposes, it is so, although a few probably still survive. The lesson to be drawn from the destruction of the curlew and the pas senger pigeon is that in the case of any given game bird we cannot tell exactly when the danger line is crossed and the safety of the species begins to be threatened. The untimely end of the curlew and pigeon shows that it is the part of wisdom to apply the brakes before the bottom of the hill is reached-in other words, to adopt effective preventive measures before it is too late. LESSER YELLOW-LEGS (Totanus flavipes) (See page 134). Range: Breeds from Kotzebue Sound, Alaska, northern Mackenzie, central Keewatin, and southern Ungava tovalley ofthe Upper Yukon, southern Sas katchewan, and northern Quebec; winters inArgentina, Chile, and Patagonia. The mention of the lesser yellow-legs inevitably recalls tomind itslarger rela tive, for the two birds resemble each other inmany ways. Formerly the lesser yellow-legs was extremely abundant over most ofthe United States east ofthe Rockies, west of which range itoccurs only casually. Like somany ofitsrelatives this bird seeks the seclusion ofthe farNorth tonest, and reaches the Mackenzie River region by the MississippiValley route the early part ofMay, thus being, as Professor Cooke notes, about the earliest ofour shorebirds toreach high northern latitudes. Naturally it is oneof thefirst tocomplete itsnesting, and itbegins its southern journey early in July,the greater number having left thebarren grounds by the end of August. Its principal migration route infall appears tobethe Atlantic coast, and not manyyears ago early yellow-legs shooting was eagerly looked forward to by the impatient sportsmen. Nodoubt many flocks join the curlew and plover on their journey over the ocean and reach South America by the all-water route. Were a census ofthe yellow-legs possible itwould show a woeful diminution of numbersin the last fifty years. Both Audubon and Nuttall appear to have regarded the bird asone ofthe most numerous ofAmerican waders, and many who are still active hunters can recall the days when bigbags were com mon. The yellow-legs, however, decoys well, and when aflock has been decimated by the first discharge will frequently return atthe whistled call. The trustfulness of shorebirds is great, their wiles few and ineffective, and they have topay the natural penalty, since there is little pity inthe heart ofthe man with ashotgun. BLACK TURNSTONE(Arenaria melanocephala) (See page 134). Range: Breeds from Kotzebue Sound south tothe valley oftheLower Yukon; winters from British Columbiasouth toSanta Margarita Island, Lower California. The black turnstone is thePacific-coast representative ofthe common ruddy turnstone of Atlantic shores. Little istobesaid ofitshabits that isnot equally applicable to its fellow, of which, except forcolor, itisanear counterpart. Black turnstones arrive at the mouthofthe Yukon about the middle ofMay. Nelson found it far more numerous insummer onthe Bering Sea coast than the ruddy turnstone, and it was nestingwherever found. Like itsnear relative, the black turnstone resorts to the interioronly tonest, and assoon asthe young areable to accompany their parents all betake themselves tothe coast where onthesea beaches and the rocky islandsthey find thesmall marine creatures upon which chiefly they live. They wintermostly onthecoast ofLower California. Atthe present time the black turnstone ismore numerous than theruddy. Turnstones are still comparatively numerous onthe west coast, chiefly no,doubt owing tothe abundance of more highly prized game. Indeed, inCalifornia and other Pacific States, it is only in comparatively recent years that the smaller species ofshore birds have received any attention atthehands ofsportsmen, oreven gunners. When I first visited San Diegoin1887, the shores ofthe northern end ofthe bay were dotted with many kindsofshorebirds, including curlew. They were very tame, and apparently were never disturbed byahostile shot. Indeed they were considered hardly fit to eat, and certainly not worth powder and shot when ducks, brant, and geese were to be hadwith very little trouble.