WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Bird Watching (UK) - - Your Birding Month -

WHIMBREL

The smaller, striped-headed cousin of the Curlew is largely a pas­sage mi­grant in the UK, though some 500 pairs stay to breed in the far north (north­ern Scot­land and the North­ern Isles). There is an el­e­ment of un­cer­tainty about the ori­gin of its cu­ri­ous name. Per­haps the most con­vinc­ing ex­pla­na­tion is that the word de­rives from the same roots as ‘whim­per’, re­fer­ring to its shim­mer­ing, rapid flight call. Its old Gaelic name is Eun-bheall­tuin, which trans­lates as Beltane Bird, re­fer­ring to its fre­quent ap­pear­ance around the time of the Celtic Beltane fes­ti­val a.k.a. May Day. This cer­tainly cor­re­sponds to a peak pe­riod in Whimbrel mi­gra­tion.

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