There are four races of this large and elegant wader which breeds round the North Pole on the tundra and within the boreal forests in open areas. It is very well represented in Iceland and Europe, sparse in Asia, good numbers in Alaska and North-West Canada and again round the Western edge of Hudson bay.
It is much smaller and slighter than the Curlew of Eurasia and has shorter bill and legs. The positive feature is the dark head with pale eyestripe in all plumages. This is the notorious seven whistler beloved of smuggler's tales and legends of the moors. The delightful and far carrying trill with five to eight repeated notes is given in flight on migration - day or night - and may be to keep loose flocks together or to attract other birds thinking of migrating to join the flying birds.
Movements are extreme with birds wintering South to the shores of Tierra del Fuego, South Africa, Australia and Tasmania and New Zealand. Prefers inlets rather than big mud-flats or exposed shores in the winter. It feeds by probing with its long curved bill for shell-fish and other invertebrates. In the very Northern Isles of Scotland (and a few on the mainland and in the Western Isles) there are almost 500 pairs.
An obvious relative of the Curlew but much more graceful.
Length 410 mm Closed wing 250 mm Weight 450 gms
A Bird On! Sketch by Chris Mead
Copyright © 1996 by Jacobi Jayne & Company and Chris Mead