Whimbrel in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Shiloh Schulte/USFWS

Birds: Whimbrel

Shorebird migrations are one of my favorite times of the year. The flocks and vagrants and gaggles come passing through Oregon and often land either on the golf course in Gearhart or the vast sandy beaches of the North Oregon Coast.

Last year (2019) was an autumn with hundreds of Whimbrels flying through and alighting in the town. The golfers had to chase them away, as their shouts of “FOUR” where not working on these passing-through visitors. And they are big enough to change the trajectory of a golf ball.

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Whimbrel flock with a couple of passenger Bar-tailed Godwits

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One of the most wide-ranging shorebirds in the world, the Whimbrel breeds at the top of the world in the Arctic in the eastern and western hemispheres. The Whimbrel migrates to South America, Africa, south Asia, and Australia, all the way at the bottom of the globe. It uses its long, down-curved bill to probe deep in the sand of beaches searching for invertebrates, but they also feed on berries and insects wherever they land away from the coast.

Range map of Whimbrel’s by the speckledhatchback.org
Some Cool Facts about Whimbrels
  • Migrating Whimbrels are known to make a non-stop flight of 4,000 km (2,500 miles) from southern Canada or New England to South America.
  • Four distinct subspecies of Whimbrel are recognized: one breeds in North America, one from Iceland to northwest Siberia, one in southern Russia, and one in eastern Siberia.
  • The American form of the Whimbrel species was formerly considered a separate species, the Hudsonian Curlew. Whereas the Eurasian forms have white backs, and some white rumps, the American form has a brown rump and back.
  • In many regions of the globe, the primary winter foods of Whimbrels are crustaceans, such as crabs. As an example of adaptation, the curve of the Whimbrel’s bill nicely matches the shape of fiddler crabs’ burrows. The bird reaches into the burrow, extracts the crab, washes it if it is muddy, (sometimes breaks off the claws and legs) and swallows it. Indigestible parts of the crab are excreted in fecal pellets.
  • The oldest recorded Whimbrel was at least 14 years old when it was re-captured and re-released in Manitoba, Canada.

More Whimbrel ID Info

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