Labrador Duck

On December 12, 1878, a boy left his home in the rural southern tier of New York State in the hope of returning with wild game for the family table.  At a place on the Chemung River called the Buttonwoods in Elmira, New York, he shot an unfamiliar duck: unfamiliar because it was far from its native habitat, blown inland by a storm that pounded the Atlantic coast.  The bird he shot is thought to have been the last Labrador Duck ever seen.

Wings whistling as it flew this sea duck migrated along the coast from Labrador to Nova Scotia and as far south as the Chesapeake Bay, wintering mainly on the shores of New England, New Jersey and Long Island.

Diving through silt and shallows, the Labrador Duck used its unusually wide, flat bill to feed on mussels and shellfish.

Because of its supposedly unappetizing flavor, the duck was not pursued by hunters.  The reasons for the species’ extinction remain unclear, but its reliance on shallow-water mollusks, which were themselves greatly diminished by the growth of industry on the Eastern Seaboard, was likely decisive.

The memorial to the Labrador Duck is located in Brand Park, Elmira, New York.