Social Media Icons DEQ Facebook DEQ Twitter DEQ Instagram DEQ LinkedIn

Virginia Coastal Program: 2008 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:



College of William & Mary - Center for Conservation Biology

Project Title:

An Investigation of a Hemispherically Important Migratory Staging Area for Whimbrel Along the Seaside of the Delmarva Peninsula

Project Description as Proposed:

The whimbrel is a large, holarctic, highly migratory shorebird that breeds in arctic latitudes and winters in the tropics. Both populations of whimbrel in the western hemisphere have declined dramatically in recent decades. The species appears to depend on relatively few staging areas where it refuels for nonstop flights as long as 5,000 km. In recent years, the lower Delmarva Peninsula has been identified as a terminal staging area during spring migration where whimbrel stop, gorge on fiddler crabs for up to a month and then fly overland to their breeding grounds. The Center for Conservation Biology has used cutting edge satellite telemetry technology to track individuals from the Delmarva to breeding grounds along the North Slope of Alaska and to Hudson Bay. The Center has also used conventional transmitters that have been detected in passage through Toronto and on the breeding grounds south of Churchill, Manitoba. 
Although the results of recent research is beginning to clarify important locations for whimbrel during spring migration, virtually nothing is known about the use of areas during fall passage. During the fall of 2008, the Center deployed a single satellite transmitter along the Delmarva and tracked a bird directly out over the Atlantic Ocean and to the coast of Guyana. The route of this bird suggests that the site may be a significant terminal staging area during both spring and fall. If so, the site is one of the most significant staging areas in the western hemisphere and changes in available resources and/or migration hazards may have far reaching consequences for this species.

The purpose of this field project is to investigate the significance of the lower Delmarva Peninsula as a fall staging area for migrating whimbrel. The Center for Conservation Biology will trap whimbrel during the late summer - early fall period of passage through the Delmarva, deploy 4 satellite transmitters and 30 VHF transmitters. Transmitters and tracking have been purchased ($24,000) with non-CZM funds. A synthesis of existing knowledge is needed to place the study area in the appropriate conservation context and to communicate local requirements and how we may best provide them. An overview of known concentration areas and requirements that may be considered in the development of local policies will be produced.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Bryan Watts, (757) 221-2247,

Project Status:

8/15/2009 - 3/31/2010; Project Completed

Final Product Received:

Stop-over and Migration Ecology of the Whimbrel: Fall 2009 Season Report Oct. 1, 2008 - Sept. 30, 2009 (PDF)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

The whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a large, Holarctic, highly migratory shorebird. The North American race (N.p. hudsonicus) includes two disjunct breeding populations, both of which winter primarily in Central and South America. The western population breeds in Alaska and the Northwest Territories of Canada (Engelmoer and Roselaar 1998). The eastern population breeds south and west of Hudson Bay in Manitoba and Ontario (Skeel and Mallory 1996, Jehl and Smith 1970). The prevailing thought was that the western population followed a Pacific Coast migration route between breeding and wintering areas in Panama and western South America, and that the Hudson Bay population followed an Atlantic Coast migration route to wintering grounds in Northeast South America (Andres et al. 2009, Skeel and Mallory 1996, Morrison and Ross 1989). Both populations are of high conservation concern due to population declines in recent decades (Bart et al. 2007, Morrison et al. 2006, Watts and Truitt in press). Investigations into the migration routes of whimbrels staging in Virginia have shown a previously unknown link between the eastern and western populations as they stop-over in Virginia (Watts et al. 2008). The primary objective of this project is to examine the stop-over and migration strategies of whimbrels, as they relate to the conservation of the species.

A total of four 9.5 gram PTT satellite transmitters were deployed during the fall migration season. Average weight for the whimbrels with transmitters was 527.2 grams, or approximately 200 grams over mean winter (lean) weight. Ten digitally coded glue-on radio transmitters were attached to birds. The cumulative data give us insight into stop-over times for whimbrels as they stage on the Eastern Shore of Virginia before migrating to wintering grounds. Satellite and radio transmittered whimbrels departed the Eastern Shore between 31 August and 20 September 2009. Whimbrels arrived on the Eastern Shore in large numbers as early as early to mid-July due to record low temperatures and winter-like conditions on the breeding grounds.

Several unusual migration events were observed during the fall season. Twelve flights greater than 1,000km were documented during the fall. These flights took an average of 95 hours to complete. The average distance traveled during these flights was 2,697km. A total of 5 shorter flights on wintering grounds were also documented, with birds moving from initial locations in Dominica, Venezuela, and Guyana into French Guiana, Suriname, and Brazil, the primary wintering grounds for eastern whimbrels (Morrison and Ross 1989). The mean distance traveled on these flights was 597km with the mean time in flight 47.3 hours.

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to

footer divider
footer divider
footer divider
Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

Some resources on this website require Adobe Reader and Flash Player, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Excel. If you wish to receive this content in an accessible format pursuant to Section 508 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. ยง 794 (d)), please call 800-592-5482. In addition, this website includes hyperlinks to websites neither controlled nor sponsored by DEQ or the Commonwealth of Virginia. Links may open in a new window. If you wish to receive content from a website which is neither controlled nor sponsored by DEQ or the Commonwealth, please contact the host of that website directly.

Privacy Statement | Terms Of Use | WAI Compliance | Contact Us