Numenius tenuirostris

(Slender-billed Curlew) (center), flanked by two Numenius phaeopus (Whimbrels). Source: Naturgeschichte der Vögel Mitteleuropas: Band IX, Tafel 13 – Gera, 1902. Source:
From The Birds of Europe, Plate 61, Volume 4, 1st Ed. (1832-1837) by Elizabeth Gould & Edward Lear, Circa 1830. Source:

Slender-billed Curlew | Numenius tenuirostris

Aims: With this work I strive to show the delicate beauty of the curlew, wanting to give it a lot of space. It seems to me we didn’t give it a great deal of space while it lived. (I struggle to believe the bird is still around.)

Process: The greyscale cross-stitch image of the curlew is extracted from a rare clear photograph of a Slender-billed Curlew, taken by Michel Brosselin in Brittany, France, in February 1968. The image is included in British Birds 108, November 2015, p. 680.

Slender-billed Curlew, extracted and manipulated from a photograph taken by Michel Brosselin in Brittany, France, in February 1968.

Insights: This seems to be a bird whose extinction we struggle to accept, whether it has already occurred or is about to. One article asked: Where has Europe’s rarest bird gone? What kind of a question is that to ask of something that has vanished? The question reminds me of the inability of some to accept the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. In ‘A Feathered River across the Sky‘ Joel Greenberg references a claim that the pigeons had migrated to Hawaii. Their disappearance was so monumental and rapid that for some it was easier to believe they had migrated halfway across the Pacific than that they had vanished. On Slender-billed Curlew, I do recommend Horatio Clare’s book ‘Orison for a Curlew‘. The human stories in the book left me hopeful.

I remember reading about the Slender-billed Curlew as a kid; it was already very rare in the 1980s. Working on this project I’ve realized that I may have been close to some of the last birds in 1989 in Ceuta; they were occasionally recorded there in the past, and the last confirmed sighting is from nearby Merja Zerga in Morocco in 1995. I learned the term ‘endling’ while updating a lecture in which I discuss the vaquita porpoise. Perhaps there is still a Slender-billed Curlew migrating somewhere between the Mediterranean and the Kazakhstan steppe. Unlike Martha, the Passenger Pigeon endling, we haven’t named the last Slender-billed Curlew, because we don’t know if she or he exists. What would we call her or him?

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