Beaches Nature Trail

Whimbrel – our twice yearly visitor

May 2017: It’s early May and small groups of Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) have arrived in Mayo for a brief stop-off on their way to their summer breeding grounds in the Arctic.

I spotted small groups of Whimbrel at Kilcummin; along the Moy Estuary, and at Port Mor beach near Blacksod during the first week of May.

A Whimbrel, also known as the May Curlew, is easily mistaken for the curlew and indeed it can be difficult to tell the difference.

For me, the easiest way to identify the Whimbrel is by its distinctive cry, a rapid, whistle – “whit-tit-tit-tit-tit-tit…” as it takes flight.

A remarkable journey

You will also notice that the Whimbrel is slightly smaller than the curlew and although it has a similar down-curved bill, it is slightly shorter.

It feeds on molluscs, crustaceans and polychaete worms between the tides -and can also be seen feeding in wetlands beside the coast.

The Whimbrel is known as a passage migrant. Only some of the birds stop briefly on the west coast of Ireland on its twice-yearly journey between Africa and the Arctic parts of Iceland, Greenland, Canada, Scandinavia and Siberia.

While small groups of Whimbrel stop off on the Mayo coastline on their migration from its wintering home in West Africa, some birds have been recorded as flying non-stop to West Africa, covering distances of 4,000 to 5,500km in just 5 days.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.