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Eskimo Curlew

Recovery Strategy for the Eskimo Curlew

(Numenius borealis)

in Canada [Proposed]

Eskimo Curlew

March 2007

About the Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series

What is the Species at Risk Act (SARA)? 

SARA is the Act developed by the federal government as a key contribution to the common national effort to protect and conserve species at risk in Canada . SARA came into force in 2003, and one of its purposes is “to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.” 

What is recovery?

In the context of species at risk conservation, recovery is the process by which the decline of an endangered, threatened, or extirpated species is arrested or reversed and threats are removed or reduced to improve the likelihood of the species’ persistence in the wild. A species will be considered recovered when its long-term persistence in the wild has been secured.

What is a recovery strategy?

A recovery strategy is a planning document that identifies what needs to be done to arrest or reverse the decline of a species. It sets goals and objectives and identifies the main areas of activities to be undertaken. Detailed planning is done at the action plan stage.

Recovery strategy development is a commitment of all provinces and territories and of three federal agencies -- Environment Canada, Parks Canada Agency, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada -- under the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk.  Sections 37–46 of SARA (http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/approach/act/default_e.cfm) outline both the required content and the process for developing recovery strategies published in this series.

Depending on the status of the species and when it was assessed, a recovery strategy has to be developed within one to two years after the species is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk.  Three to four years is allowed for those species that were automatically listed when SARA came into force.

What’s next?

In most cases, one or more action plans will be developed to define and guide implementation of the recovery strategy. Nevertheless, directions set in the recovery strategy are sufficient to begin involving communities, land users, and conservationists in recovery implementation. Cost-effective measures to prevent the reduction or loss of the species should not be postponed for lack of full scientific certainty.

The series

This series presents the recovery strategies prepared or adopted by the federal government under SARA. New documents will be added regularly as species get listed and as strategies are updated.

To learn more 

To learn more about the Species at Risk Act and recovery initiatives, please consult the SARA Public Registry (www.sararegistry.gc.ca ) of the Recovery Secretariat    (http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/sar/recovery/default_e.cfm ).

Recommended citation:

Environment Canada. 2007. Recovery Strategy for the Eskimo Curlew (Numenius borealis) in Canada [Proposed] . Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. v + 10 pp.

 Additional copies:

Additional copies can be downloaded from the SARA Public Registry (www.sararegistry.gc.ca/).

Cover illustration:Alan Smith

Également disponible en français sous le titre

« Programme de rétablissement du Courlis esquimau (Numenius borealis) au Canada [Proposition] »

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of the Environment, 2007. All rights reserved.

ISBN  To come

Cat. no. To come

Content (excluding the illustrations) may be used without permission, with appropriate credit to the source.



This recovery strategy has been prepared in cooperation with the jurisdictions responsible for the Eskimo Curlew. Environment Canada has reviewed and accepts this document as its recovery strategy for the Eskimo Curlew, as required under the Species at Risk Act. This recovery strategy also constitutes advice to other jurisdictions and organizationsthat may be involved in recovering the species.

It was determined that the recovery of the Eskimo Curlew in Canada is not technically or biologically feasible at this time. The species still may benefit from general conservation programs in the same geographic area, and will receive protection through SARA and other federal, and provincial or territorial, legislation, policies, and programs.

The feasibility determination will be re-evaluated at a minimum, every five years as part of the report on implementation of the recovery strategy, or as warranted in response to changing conditions and/or knowledge.

In the spirit of the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk, the Minister of the Environment invites all responsible jurisdictions and Canadians to join Environment Canada in supporting and implementing this strategy for the benefit of the Eskimo Curlew and Canadian society as a whole. 

Responsible Jurisdictions

Environment Canada

Parks Canada Agency

Government of Alberta

Government of Manitoba

Government of New Brunswick

Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

Government of Nova Scotia

Government of Northwest Territories

Government of Nunavut

Government of Ontario

Government of Prince Edward Island

Government of Québec

Government of Saskatchewan

Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board

Nunavut Wildlife Management Board

Sahtu Renewable Resources Board

Wildlife Management Advisory Council - Northwest Territories


This recovery strategy was prepared by Cheri Gratto-Trevor (Eskimo Curlew Recovery Team chair), Renee Franken, and Ray Poulin on behalf of the Eskimo Curlew Recovery Team.


We thank the Eskimo Curlew Recovery Team members (Joe Brazil, Steve Brechtel, Suzanne Carrière, Thomas Jung, Pierre LaPorte, and Kevin Murphy) for reviewing and providing helpful comments on the recovery strategy. Advice and suggestions were also generously provided by Ken Abraham, Madeline Austen, Alan Dextrase, Dave Duncan, Karen Hartley, Bruce MacDonald, Kevin McCormick, Margaret McLaren, Lindsay Rodger, Mike Setterington, Joanne Tuckwell, Mary Vallianatos, and Teri Winter. We would also like to thank Al Smith for providing the Eskimo Curlew drawing on the cover.  Thanks also to Canadian Wildlife Service, Habitat Conservation Section for their advice and Canadian Wildlife Service, Recovery Section for their advice and efforts in preparing this document for posting.

Strategic Environmental Assessment

A strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is conducted on all SARA recovery planning documents, in accordance with the Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. The purpose of a SEA is to incorporate environmental considerations into the development of public policies, plans, and program proposals to support environmentally-sound decision making.

Recovery planning is intended to benefit species at risk and biodiversity in general. However, it is recognized that strategies may also inadvertently lead to environmental effects beyond the intended benefits. The planning process based on national guidelines directly incorporates consideration of all environmental effects, with a particular focus on possible impacts on non-target species or habitats. The results of the SEA are incorporated directly into the strategy itself, but are also summarized below.

This recovery strategy concludes that recovery for the Eskimo Curlew is not feasible at this time and suggests that no recovery actions be undertaken. As such, there is no risk for the implementation of this strategy to inadvertently lead to adverse effects on other species.


SARA defines residence as: a dwelling-place, such as a den, nest or other similar area or place, that is occupied or habitually occupied by one or more individuals during all or part of their life cycles, including breeding, rearing, staging, wintering, feeding or hibernating[Subsection 2(1)].

Residencedescriptions , or the rationale for why the residence concept does not apply to a given species, are posted on the SARA public registry:



The Eskimo Curlew is a migratory bird covered under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and is under the management jurisdiction of the federal government. The Species at Risk Act (SARA, Section 37) requires the competent minister to prepare recovery strategies for listed extirpated, endangered or threatened species. The Eskimo Curlew was listed as endangered under SARA in June 2003. The Canadian Wildlife Service – Prairie and Northern Region, Environment Canada, led the development of this recovery strategy. All responsible jurisdictions reviewed and acknowledged receipt of the strategy. The proposed strategy meets SARA requirements in terms of content and process (Sections 39–41).

Executive Summary

·      The Eskimo Curlew once numbered in the hundreds of thousands, but declined rapidly in the 1870s to 1890s. There has been no evidence of breeding since 1866, and the last specimen was obtained in the 1960s. Population estimates are extremely low, and it is possible that this species has gone extinct in recent years.

·      The Eskimo Curlew had only two known breeding locations, both located in the Northwest Territories. However, breeding likely also occurred in Nunavut, Yukon Territory, Alaska, and Russia. Breeding habitat included upland tundra.

·      In the fall, Eskimo Curlews migrated east to Newfoundland and Labrador and then south non-stop to South America. They wintered predominantly in the eastern pampas of Argentina. In spring, they moved up the Pacific coast and across Central America and the Gulf of Mexico and staged in tall- and mixed-grass areas of Canada and the United States.

·      Overhunting is thought to be the main cause of the Eskimo Curlew’s decline, as the bird was considered a delicacy and was easy to hunt. Although hunting was banned in 1916, the recovery of the Eskimo Curlew may have been hindered and its decline exacerbated by its conservative life history strategy and by habitat changes at its spring migration stopover sites and in its wintering areas.

·      Critical habitat for the Eskimo Curlew cannot be identified, because there is very little information on locations of habitat necessary for survival or recovery. There are only two confirmed breeding locations for the Eskimo Curlew, and both of these locations date back to before the 1870s. Part of its probable historical breeding habitat is protected through the Anderson River Migratory Bird Sanctuary, the Kendall Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, and various national parks. 

·      Recovery of the Eskimo Curlew is not considered feasible at this time, because no nests have been located in 140 years and there are very few, if any, individuals left in existence. We recommend that no recovery action for the Eskimo Curlew be undertaken at this time other than continued monitoring of reported sightings.

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