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Are there any Eskimo curlews left out there?

Archibald Thorburn / Wikimedia Commons

Is the Eskimo curlew extinct? The last winter sighting was in 1987 in Nebraska, the last summer sighting in 1983 in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, reports Reuters via the Mother Nature Network. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is this summer asking its Alaska scientists for help in determining whether the shorebird should be declared extinct.

The Eskimo curlew population once numbered hundreds of thousands, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. It is the smallest of four species of Western Hemisphere curlews, and is known for its long migration route from Arctic tundra breeding grounds to wintering lands in South America.

But the birds died off in drastic numbers due to overhunting, the loss of prairie habitat that was converted from grasslands to agriculture and the extinction of a type of grasshopper that made up much of their diet.

Most were gone by the beginning of the 20th century, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

A spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity says it's too early to list the Eskimo curlew as extinct. Such a designation would also reduce pressure to protect the bird's tundra habitat, he said.

Read more at the Mother Nature Network.