Not-Quite-So-Long-Bill

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

The Long-Billed Curlew isn’t the only shorebird with a long curved bill. Photographer James Kusz caught these Whimbrel foraging in the same territory. Whimbrels are members of the curlew family and share many of their characteristics. The obvious differences are the bill and the crown. The Whimbrel’s bill is shorter overall than the Long-Billed Curlew’s. It also starts out straight before it curves, whereas the Long-billed Curlew’s bill curves along its entire length. Whimbrels also have marked black and white stripes on their crown, while the Long-billed Curlews’ crown is plain.

These birds came here from northern Alaska or far northwest Canada, where they breed during the summer months. In their breeding areas they’re happy eating berries and bugs. Here in their winter homes, they’re into crabs and similar mud-loving proteins. They’re a bit more picky about their crab meals than, for example, the Willet. Where the Willet will eat the crab in one piece, the Whimbrel often shakes or breaks off the legs and cracks the body shell before swallowing.

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

Postscript: Too Early for Burrowing Owls

Park management over the Labor Day weekend closed off the seasonal Burrowing Owl Sanctuary in the northeast corner of the park. This led several people to ask me whether the owls had arrived. The earliest Burrowing Owl arrival in recent years was October 3, and that was unusually early; the bird only stayed for a few hours. Last year the first and probably only Burrowing Owl was spotted on November 10. Park management’s fence timing synchs only very loosely with owl timing. The owl that arrived last winter departed on March 7 this year. Management did not reopen the gates to the Sanctuary until May 20. Timing is only one of the issues with this area. The fence offers little actual protection for the birds and unnecessarily keeps people out of the best birdwatching spot; see this memo for details. However, management has done a good job this year timely removing fennel and other visual obstructions from the interior of the area. If and when Burrowing Owls arrive, they will have the overhead protection they need on the outside border of the area, while we humans will have the line of sight to view them.

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