Ghost

I found this mounted shorebird at a little bird sanctuary in Ellsworth, Maine. It is part of an ancient taxidermy collection that was donated to the visitor’s center. The gentleman I spoke to did not know the history of the mount or the identity of the bird. My heart skipped a beat when I first saw the mount, but now I am not so sure. The mount is in terrible condition with extensive foxing and ruffled/damaged feathers. Please give me your ideas about the bird’s ID and how you eliminated other species.

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2 Responses to Ghost

  1. John says:

    That’s a tough one. All I feel confident in saying is that it would be a life bird for me if I saw a living version.

  2. Bill Whan says:

    John–I would certainly think Eskimo curlew on seeing this mount. For the last couple of years I have volunteered at the Ohio State Museum bird range, where I handle a lot of specimens, something relatively few birders get to do.
    We have half a dozen of this species, and I am fairly familiar with the dainty look of Eskimo’s head, neck, and bill; it stands out in a big tray full of closely-related species. But I recommend comparing it with a larger sample of specimens: there must be quite a few in Maine, as vast numbers once passed through there in the fall (the apparent wear on the coverts suggests a fall date for this one), and among old specimens Eskimos would probably far outnumber all other confusible species. One thing I think one notices is the apparent degree of variation in this morphology: the thin bill in particular can vary in length (never really close to twice the head, but sometimes more like 1 1/2 times) but is always noticeably short, and in the nature of its curvature can look fairly even throughout the length, or more pronounced on the distal end. I think you’ll see some variation in the coloration of the mandibles, too. I really can’t see plumage details that seem all that diagnostic here (you could have the mount relaxed to take a peek at the underwing, of course), but except of course for little curlew I think you can fairly easily develop a sense of the jizz of this species after seeing a lot of them. There’s no one alive with enough field experience with this species to make what was at one time a probably easy call; the best substitute for that experience is looking at a lot of known-ID specimens.
    Best,
    Bill

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