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The Whimbrel of Oregon / Washington Coast

Published 07/22/020 at 5:54 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

The Whimbrel of Oregon / Washington Coast

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(Seaside, Oregon) – Right about now (middle of summer) if you’re meandering around Oregon coast beaches or those up in Washington, there’s a small visitor to the tideline that’s both cute and beautiful. It’s a little bird called the whimbrel, what is known as a curlew species: having a long, slender bill that curves downward. (All photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe / Seaside Aquarium).

They’re typified by that unique, skinny bill and a patterned brown color scheme, and they are one of the most well populated species of the world, living on the coastlines of six continents.

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium provided loads of photos of them carousing on the north Oregon coast this past month, chomping at fishy tidbits at the tideline.

“You may have noticed these guys on the beaches lately,” she said. “They are currently taking a break from their migration to feed on the plethora of mole crabs inhabiting our shores. Watch them as they probe the sand with their long, thin beaks searching out their next meal.”

Mole crabs are tiny, oddball crustaceans that burrow in the sands of the tideline. They too are a distinctive story all their own. It’s that curved little bill of the whimbrel that gives them the feeding tool they need, especially in mud flats and estuaries, such as at Winchester Bay, Nehalem Bay or Newport’s Yaquina Bay.

Spring and fall is when they’re migrating, and through the summer they meander around both coastlines of Oregon and Washington, although just in little bursts.

“You will typically see whimbrels in the spring and fall from anywhere to a couple of days to a few weeks depending on food supply,” Boothe said. They have an extended range where they spend the winter, from southern Oregon all the way down to southern South America. Every spring they head up to Alaska and northern Canada to nest in the low-lying wet tundra.”

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said whimbrels can be seen inland as well, primarily in the Willamette Valley and then usually in April or early May.

Like Oregon, the Washington coast sees few of them in winter but it does happen. Spring migrations make them more easily seen up north in the Puget Sound area. However, in the fall – as they head southward – you’ll spot them more often on the southern Washington coast in coastal estuaries such as Grays Harbor or Willapa Bay.

They can also be spotted in eastern Washington in April or May, but it’s still fairly rare in those areas.

For a time the whimbrel became somewhat endangered thanks to over hunting in the 19th century, and then once that was banned they saw quite a population rebound. However, now their biggest enemy is environmental contamination, harassment by humans and destruction of their habitat.

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