A Whimbrel’s Wild Ride


It’s a bird… it’s a plane… wait… it’s a bird wearing a backpack!?

That’s correct, bird lovers. This summer, The Nature Conservancy and the Center for Conservation Biology have teamed up again to track the migratory routes of tagged whimbrels from Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Inspiration for this project was born in June 2008 when researchers tracked the flight path of an unforgettable shorebird nicknamed Winnie.

Tagged with a 9.5 gram satellite transmitter — roughly the equivalent of a 200-pound man carrying a lightweight three-pound backpack — researchers expected Winnie to head to breeding grounds in the lowlands of Hudson and James Bays in central Canada.

But Winnie didn’t read the flight plan. Instead, this shorebird flew nonstop to Alaska. In just six speedy days!

Until Winnie’s surprising flight, it was assumed that the birds staging at the Delmarva Peninsula were exclusively from the Hudson Bay population. Winnie’s transcontinental journey to Alaska has forced researchers to rethink the origin of whimbrels using this particular stopover site.

And so we turn to a new batch of whimbrel recruits for answers. Boxer, Fowler, Elki, Indi and Hope (Winnie’s big sister!) have been given their transmitter backpacks and reached their cruising altitudes.

Will they follow expectations and head to Hudson or James Bay? Or will they find a new flight path like Winnie?

You can follow along, watch their progress online and receive daily updates at Wildlife Tracking. Cool Green Science will also be posting updates.

Happy tracking!

(Image: Tagged whimbrel. Source: Barry Truitt/TNC.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. What amazing creatures we have all around us and often pay little attention to. I will be following the progress for sure. Thanks

  2. Impressive – on at least two counts. Firstly the little tracking backpacks seem pretty neat and secondly 6 days non-stop flying to Alaska. Having looked at that Widlife Tracking site that too is rather clever – making that data available to the general public is pretty fascinating – with everything from birds to reptiles and sharks to monitor.

  3. I just say great work, great effort and congrats on this work 🙂

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