Many populations of large, migratory shorebirds, including curlews and godwits, are experiencing significant declines at a global scale. These declines can be attributed to individual threats such as unregulated hunting on their wintering grounds, but most declines are the result of cumulative threats throughout the migratory life of each bird.
Our local curlew, the one that frequents eastern Massachusetts in the late summer and fall, is called the Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus). We are studying Whimbrel migrations to help understand where and when conservation actions are needed to improve the life-supporting conditions on the ground for this and all shorebirds. From July through late September Whimbrels migrate southward from their Arctic and sub-Arctic breeding grounds and some spend up to a month with us along our coast. While in Massachusetts, Whimbrel spend almost all of their time in the saltmarshes feeding on fiddler crabs—an important staple in their diet. After replenishing their energy reserves, Whimbrels in Massachusetts will typically make a non-stop, trans-oceanic flight to their wintering grounds in the Caribbean Islands or all the way to the north coast of South America.
Whimbrel populations are particularly vulnerable to decline, given their dependence on specific food resources (fiddler crabs), and need for coastal habitats like our vulnerable saltmarshes and the remaining mangrove forests of coastal South America. Given these concerns, Manomet and our project partners have identified Whimbrel as a current priority for conservation and research. Through the use of new and emerging tracking technology, we are now able to understand more about what it takes to support Whimbrel populations and answer some of the remaining mysteries of the Whimbrel’s life history.