Researchers track nesting whimbrels on Georgia's coast

Katie Higgins of UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant (left), Fletcher Smith of Georgia DNR and Sea Grant Fellow Kim Savides scan the sky for roosting whimbrels. (Emily Jones/WABE)

Coastal Georgia’s islands, beaches and marshes are ideal habitats for all sorts of migrating birds, which means they’re also ideal for monitoring those bird species. 

One such effort, coordinated by bird conservation group Manomet, aims to count migrating whimbrels. The birds stop over on the Georgia and South Carolina coasts in the spring to feed on fiddler crabs on their way from their winter home in South America to their Arctic breeding grounds.

“There’s only a handful of these sites on the Earth that these birds are using and that makes them all the more critical, when all your eggs are in one basket, so to speak,” said Georgia Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Fletcher Smith. “It’s critical to protect these few spots.”

The count aims to identify the most important roosts, where the whimbrels return to spend the night after feeding all day in the coastal marshes, and to estimate the total number of whimbrels using the southeast during their migration.

On the evening featured in this audio postcard, researchers counted 3,630 whimbrels — nearly 10% of the total estimated population.