Labrador Duck

The Labrador Duck is the first North American bird that we are aware of to become extinct. It was rare by the time that Europeans arrived in North America, so information on the bird is a bit sketchy, but it seems to have wintered on the shores of New England, Long Island, and New Jersey, and probably nested and bred in Labrador and Northern Quebec.

Illustration by John Gerrard Keulemans of a female and male

Americans hunted the duck, and you would see the bird for sale in markets in the nineteenth century, but not on a large scale, as the meat rotted quickly, sometimes before it could even be sold,  and apparently didn’t taste very good.
labrador duck

We think that possibly the bird disappeared due to an overly specialized diet, which made it more vulnerable that its more adaptable relatives. The Labrador Duck had a bill that was especially soft, probably for probing sand to find food, with a wide flattened tip. It had many lamella inside–comb-like structures used for filtering food. Biologists think that the structure of the bill suggests that the bird dug for snails, mollusks, and other crustaceans in silt and shallow water: a fairly specific diet. The growth of industry and settlement on the east coast may have caused enough of a decline in the shellfish population that it would also affect the bird’s survival.

 

The last Labrador duck to be seen was in 1875 on Long Island.

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