Whimbrel’s Incredible Flight Highlights Habitat Needs

Whimbrel’s Incredible Flight Highlights Habitat Needs

Whimbrel Tracking Device
A Whimbrel with the tracking device attached
Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Georgia Department of Natural Resources

BRUNSWICK, Ga. –-(Ammoland.com)- After an amazing journey, the pigeon-sized shorebird has settled down in the remote Coppename Monding Nature Preserve in the South American country of Suriname.

The rest is deserved. The bird, a whimbrel, has just traveled more than 4,700 miles, including nearly 3,500 miles nonstop in five days!

While whimbrels are known for long-distance migrations, it has been unclear how exactly far they fly and where they go after leaving Georgia. Until now.

Chinquapin, one of two whimbrels fitted with radio transmitters in Georgia in May, is providing key information about the species’ migration patterns to Georgia Department of Natural Resources biologists and other partners in the study at the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William & Mary.

After leaving the Georgia coast, the tagged whimbrels flew north to Hudson Bay in Canada, one of them nonstop. Transmitter data shows that Chinquapin ended up approximately 350 miles west of the bay, below the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories.

Chinquapin departed this summer territory for Coats Island in Hudson Bay during the second week of July and stayed there until early August. At Coats Island, he geared up for the next leg of what would become a marathon migration flight.

During the early morning hours of Aug. 5, Chinquapin flew 600 miles south over Hudson Bay, then continued down the length of James Bay, over Quebec, over Maine and finally out over the open Atlantic Ocean. Tropical Storm Colin was pumping north toward Bermuda as Chinquapin headed south. He appears to have skirted the storm’s cyclonic winds by swinging 300 miles east of Bermuda on Aug. 8. His transmitter beeped next from the beaches of northwest Puerto Rico on Aug. 10 near Playa de Isabela – a nonstop journey of 3,470 miles. That’s the equivalent of flying about five days around-the-clock from Boston to Anchorage, Alaska.

The small bird was not finished, though. After a two-week rest, he headed 1,300 miles south over the island of Grenada to Suriname, his current location.

Although from only one bird, the information received is invaluable, said Brad Winn, a program manager with the DNR Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section.

“Chinquapin is just one tagged whimbrel, but it is important to remember that these are gregarious birds, so it is likely he is flying in a flock,” Winn said. “His movements also represent thousands of other smaller shorebirds that make similar flights from the Arctic to South America and back.

“It is pretty mind-boggling that a bird the size of a pigeon can leave subarctic Canada and go nonstop to the beaches of Puerto Rico. It is an amazing journey and it is something to be awed and admired. We don’t know if he will stay at his current site – whimbrels are known to spend winters on both coasts – so it will be interesting to see where he goes.”

The transmitter-toting whimbrels are not only showing scientists the resources they and their kind need to exist, such as seasonal foods and nesting habitat, they are also reminders that maintaining the health of coastal landscapes has implications beyond state lines and even national borders. Whimbrels and many other species of shorebirds are in Georgia by the thousands for a short period each year.

“These global migrants visit us on their migratory trek for about six weeks each spring to feast on the fiddler crabs in our marshes,” Winn said. “The energy they get from our crabs supports them during the next 2,000- to 3,000-mile leg of their annual migration. If our marshes are destroyed or become polluted, the crabs will be gone and this vital link in the migratory chain will be lost.

“We have a responsibility to be good stewards of our coastal habitats for birds that call the entire Western Hemisphere home.”

Whimbrels are a high-priority species in Georgia’s State Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy that guides DNR efforts to conserve biological diversity.

Georgians can help conserve whimbrels and other nongame wildlife, native plants and natural habitats through buying a wildlife license plate featuring a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird. They can also donate to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund through the state income tax checkoff or online at www.georgiawildlife.com. Contributions are vital to the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state general funds for its mission to help conserve wildlife not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as rare plants and natural habitats in Georgia.

Details at www.georgiawildlife.com/node/338, or call Nongame Conservation Section offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-264-7218).

ON THE NET Track Chinquapin’s travels at www.wildlifetracking.org/index.shtml?tag_id=84206