Whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus, is a regular visitor here in The Sea Ranch. You will find him on our beaches and close to the splash zone on the rocks along with the other shorebirds. Like most of them, Whimbrel feeds on marine invertebrates that he sometimes pulls out of their burrows in the sand with his long bill. It's ok if you want to call him Curlew because he is part of that species of bird. In fact, he is sometimes called Hudsonian Curlew. Whimbrel is thought to be one of the most widespread Curlews in the world, but Audobon has him on their List of Most Concern because his numbers are in decline.

whimbrel

whimbrel

whimbrel

Ok, so Whimbrel has a long bill that he can poke into the sand in search for a hermit crab or some other delicacy, but how does he find it down there and then catch it? Easy. The tip of his bill has a host of nerve endings that detect vibrations caused by underground insects, crustaceans, and worms. He literally wriggles his way to his objective and, if you are lucky enough to see him going after lunch in the sand, you can watch every twist and turn. Sometimes, in some places (not here), he eats berries which he plucks with his bill. How does he get the berry from his bill into his throat? Simple. He tosses it up in the air and then catches it in his mouth.

When you watch Whimbrel go about his business with that long curved bill that seems so specifically designed to do it's job, it is hard to believe that his ancestor was a dinosaur. Delicate, descended from massive. Whimbrel (and all of our other bird's) distant direct ancestor, depicted in the movie Jurassic Park, lived hundreds of millions of years ago. The paleontologists and ornithologists are still arguing about the exact evolutionary pathway and a recent DNA study has intensified the discussion, but that central point is generally accepted as fact. This argument about which fossil is related to which other fossil is the main reason that scientific names keep changing - to the endless confusion of us common folk.

"O, CURLEW, cry no more in the air,
Or only to the waters in the West;
Because your crying brings to my mind
Passion-dimmed eyes and long heavy hair
That was shaken out over my breast:
There is enough evil in the crying of wind.

William Butler Yeats

In Pacific aboriginal cultures, Curlew is the protector of departed souls.

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