You’ve undoubtedly heard of Minnie the Moocher and maybe even Willie the Wimp. Well, now we can turn eyes brimming with admiration towards a new hero, a supreme shorebird who just flew 3,200 miles (5,000 kilometers) over a span of no more than 146 hours. Presenting Winnie the Whimbrel!

The reason we know about this epic journey is that Winnie was wearing a wire, actually a state-of-the-art satellite tracking device, courtesy of researchers from the College of William and Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology and The Nature Conservancy. The result is a bird’s-eye-view of this record-setting migration of a shorebird from feeding grounds on the Delmarva Peninsula to breeding grounds on the McKenzie River near the Alaska-Canada border.

Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology, puts this accomplishment in context:

This discovery sets a new distance record in the flight range of this species and highlights the hemispheric importance of the Delmarva Peninsula as a staging area for migratory shorebirds. The flight documented this spring challenges some long-held assumptions and raises several new questions about whimbrel ecology.

According to the press release from The College of William & Mary, Winnie surprised scientists by making a transcontinental flight, northwest toward Alaska, rather than taking the route expected for a bird belonging to the eastern population of whimbrels.

Winnie’s flight shows at least some of the birds are migrating much longer distances than scientists had thought, a revelation that highlights the area’s value as a feeding station between the birds’ tropical wintering grounds and their Canadian breeding areas.

The discovery that whimbrels use (the seaside of the Delmarva Peninsula) as a terminal staging area before embarking on a transcontinental flight suggests that the site is uniquely suited to provide the tremendous amount of energy required to prepare birds for such a flight.

Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) are widespread shorebirds, suitably drab but distinguished by their long, hooked bills and bold crown stripes. In addition to setting a distance record, Winnie also set a record for size, weighing 1.4 pounds (640 grams), which Watts said is 40 percent more than any other whimbrel recorded.

Images courtesy of The Center for Conservation Biology

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.