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The Labrador Duck

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Author Topic: The Labrador Duck  (Read 162 times)
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« on: March 19, 2009, 05:17:14 pm »

BrokenWing Chronicles
Camptorhynchus labradorius
The extinction of the Labrador Duck is still quite unexplained. Although hunted for food, this duck was considered to taste bad and rot quickly and fetch a low price; consequently, it was not sought much by hunters. Alternatively, it is thought that the eggs may have been over-harvested, and it may have been subject to depredations by the feather trade in its breeding area as well. Another possible factor in the bird's extinction was the decline in mussels and other shellfish on which they are believed to have fed in their winter quarters, due to growth of population and industry on the Eastern Seaboard. Although all sea ducks readily feed on shallow-water molluscs, no Western Atlantic bird species seems to have been dependent on such food as much as the Labrador Duck (Bangs in Phillips, 1926).
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The male's bill of this shy bird species was nearly as long as the head, rather broader than high at the base, the sides nearly parallel, but at the end enlarged by soft membranous expansions to the upper mandible.
The head was of moderate size, oblong, and compressed with small eyes. Their neck was rather short and thick. The body of the Labrador duck was full and depressed. The feet were very short, strong and placed rather far behind. This bird's plumage was dense, soft and blended. It had small feathers of the head and neck. The tail was very short, much rounded, and made of fourteen tapering feathers.
The bill's colour was pale greyish-blue and the sides of the base, and the edges of both mandibles were dull pale orange, the rest of the bill was black. Their iris was reddish-hazel. The feet light greyish-blue, webs and claws dusky. The head and upper half of neck white, excepting an elongated black patch on the top of the head and nape. Below the middle of the neck is a black ring, from the hind part of which proceeds a longitudinal band of the same colour, gradually becoming wider on the back and rump; below the black ring anteriorly is a broad band of white, passing backwards on each side so as to include the scapulars. All the under parts were black, excepting the axillaries and lower wing-coverts. Upper wing-coverts and secondary quills were white and some of the inner quills with a narrow external black margin. The tail was brownish-black, tinged with grey, the shafts black; upper tail-coverts dusky, minutely dotted with reddish-brown. The Labrador Duck's length to end of tail was 20 inches, to end of claws 22 1/2, to end of wings 18 1/4; extent of wings 30; wing from flexure 9 1/4; tail 3 5/8; bill along the ridge 1 3/4, along the edge of lower mandible 2 3/8; tarsus 1 1/2; middle toe 2 3/8, its claw 3/8; hind toe 4 (1/2)/8, its claw (1 1/2)/8; outer toe and claw slightly longer than middle; inner toe 1 7/8, its claw (2 1/2)/8. Weight 1 lb. 14 1/2 oz.
The female is less than the male. The bill, iris, and feet are coloured as in the male; sides of the forehead white  The general colour is brownish-grey, darker on the head, cheeks, back, rump, and abdomen, of a lighter tint, approaching to ash-grey, on the throat, breast, wing-coverts, and inner secondaries, which are margined externally with black; seven or eight of the secondary quills white; the primaries and tall-feathers as in the male. Length to end of tail 18 1/4 inches, to end of claws 19 3/8, to end of wings 17; extent of wings 29; wing from flexure 9; tail 3 1/2; bill along the ridge 1 5/8, along the edge of lower mandible 2 1/8; tarsus 1 1/2; hind toe and claw middle toe and claw 2 1/2. Weight 1 lb. 1 oz.
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Before there were any laws about hunting, it was quite common for wild game of all kinds to be sold in the markets. Sparrows, robins, plovers, all were put on display and sold. Ducks and geese were in quite high demand. The Labrador ducks were not considered to be very good to eat, probably because of their diet. There are quite a few stories of Labrador ducks being hung up in the market, but nobody wanted them, so they rotted and were thrown away.
Why did they disappear? We donít really know. They were hunted, along with almost all other birds. Their nests were robbed of eggs. Many were probably shot for their feathers, and especially for their down, which was quite thick. No one has even brought forward that they disappeared because of any natural causes.
In the winter, these ducks used to sort of drift south a bit, to Nova Scotia, New Jersey and Chesapeake Bay. Hunting went on all winter, as well as all the rest of the year, too.
The Labrador Duck was never present in large numbers anywhere. During a period of about 20 years, it disappeared from its winter range, and from the markets, too. The last one was shot on Long Island in 1875. There are about 40 specimens in various museums, some stuffed birds, and some only skins.
So the Labrador Duck disappeared. The ceaseless persecution for meat, feathers and eggs did it in. It joins about 50 or so other birds around the world which have gone forever.
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The last sighting of a live Labrador Duck dates back to 1878 in Elmira, New York.
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