Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Willet and Whimbrel (California)

During a far-too-short trip to the San Francisco Bay Area for a reunion this past weekend, Dave and I went out looking for shorebirds in the aptly named Shorebird Park near the Berkeley marina. We saw a nice variety of species we don't see often or at all in Minnesota. Two of these were the willet and the whimbrel, both seen picking their way along next to shellfish-encrusted rocks at the edge of a wide, flat beach.


The willet is a large, straight-billed shorebird, mostly gray in its winter plumage and a more mottled brown in summer. It's an elegant bird, to my mind, and is most often seen alone. We have seen them in Minnesota, but not often.


Here's the whimbrel. Look at that bill! How would you like to go through life with that on the front of your face?  It's well-suited to its job, though: apparently the curve of the whimbrel's bill exactly fits the shape of the fiddler crab's burrow, perfect for reaching in and pulling the crab out.

The Cornell Lab says about the whimbrel (which has also been known as the Hudsonian curlew):
One of the most wide-ranging shorebirds in the world, the Whimbrel breeds in the Arctic in the eastern and western hemispheres, and migrates to South America, Africa, south Asia, and Australia. It uses its long, down-curved bill to probe deep in the sand of beaches for invertebrates, but also feeds on berries and insects.
The only other time I've seen a whimbrel was along the rocky northern California coast in March 2009.

Whimbrel (front) and Willet

Here they are together. While you can't see the full bill of the willet in this photo, you can get an idea of their relative size and coloration. Both are considered large shorebirds, weighing roughly between half a pound and a pound, but the whimbrel is the larger of the two.

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