In March 1959, Victor Emanuel was a freshman at Rice University studying and trying to decide on a major. He had a keen interest in birds, so when he received a call from a friend who said he had just seen a very rare Eskimo curlew in Galveston, Emanuel was tempted to go, but instead, decided he should stick to his studies that day.
He called Armand Yramategui, who in 1974 was honored posthumously with the naming of the Armand Bayou Nature Center, to share the news. Armand went to Galveston the next day — but didn’t find the bird until later in 1959.
In April 1959, Emanuel and some friends went birding on Galveston Island and saw a bird he strongly felt was the curlew. He made several trips to Galveston that month, including one with George Williams, an English professor at Rice with a passion for ornithology. Williams submitted an article to The Auk, the journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union, documenting the case for the curlew.
For the next four years, Eskimo curlews were reported in Galveston. Emanuel last saw the bird April 10, 1962. None have been photographed since 1962, and the last documentation was of a bird being shot by a hunter in 1963 in Barbados. The Eskimo curlew became a lost bird. Victor Emanuel, founder of VENT, the largest bird tour company in the world, calls the Eskimo curlew “the bird of my life.”
Over 15 years ago, artist Todd McGrain was working on an abstract sculpture of a duck when he read Chris Cokinos’ book, “Hope is the Thing With Feathers.” The book chronicles the loss of six species of birds, and became the inspiration for McGrain’s “Lost Bird Project.” That abstract duck became the Labrador duck, the first of the Lost Bird sculptures.
McGrain honors these birds and celebrates their lives by placing beautiful bronze sculptures near the last place the birds were seen. The project now also includes the great auk, Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon and the heath hen. McGrain’s next sculpture will be the Eskimo curlew, which will be installed on Galveston Island where the bird was last seen.
This year, the bird representing Galveston’s FeatherFest is the Eskimo curlew. It is the first time a lost species has been chosen for this annual birding festival.
You are invited by Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council and Moody Gardens to join Todd McGrain and Victor Emanuel for a free screening of the documentary film “The Lost Bird Project.” The two will introduce the film and answer questions. Please join us at 6:30 p.m. April 20 at Moody Gardens, 1 Hope Drive, in Galveston in the IMAX Theater in the Visitor’s Center. A buffet dinner will be available for purchase in the dining room before the movie. More info is available at www.galvestonfeatherfest.com/event/the-lost-bird.