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Labrador Duck

Labrador Duck: the Mystery Extinction


This striking sea duck was the first bird species found only in continental North America to disappear during the wave of extinctions that began soon after European settlement. In breeding plumage, the adult male (left) was patterned black-and- white, whereas both the immature male (center) and the adult female (right) were brownish gray with a prominent white wing patch.

Probably never abundant, the species disappeared before much could be learned about its biology. Its peculiar bill suggests that the bird sifted shellfish and crustaceans from silt and shallow water.

Although the breeding range of the Labrador Duck was never positively identified, it probably bred on rocky islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and possibly on coastal Labrador and points farther north. The bird wintered close to shore along the Atlantic Coast of North America, including the coast of Long Island, New York, where the last collected specimen was shot in 1875. The last Labrador Duck is believed to have been seen at Elmira, New York in December of 1878.

Its lack of fear of humans, specialized ecological niche, and apparently low population density all may have contributed to its vulnerability.