See you next year, whimbrel!

The whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a species of curlew that spends the summer in Iceland, laying eggs and rearing chicks. This late in the year, they will all have flown to west Africa, where they spend the winter.

It is among the larger wading birds in Iceland and has a distinctive call. I once caught one that had a broken wing and was rewarded with getting its beak stabbed straight up my nose. Surprisingly, I didn’t get a nosebleed. I have had a healthy respect for them ever since.


  When I was in elementary school, an obnoxious classmate of mine started calling me “Spói”, which is the Icelandic name for this lovely bird. It was, however, not kindly meant and was the beginning of years of bullying and name-calling. I never understood why he chose that particular name, because in Icelandic, if you call someone a “spóaleggur”, it means they have long, thin legs, which I don’t (and didn’t) have. By extension, calling someone a “spói” should mean that they are tall, skinny legged, and possibly long-nosed, a description that doesn’t fit me at all. Maybe he just thought whimbrels were ugly?

Whatever it was, it was annoying when he started repeating the name over and over in a kind of nasal whine that grated on the nerves like fingernails drawn down a blackboard. There were times I would have gladly strangled him.

In retrospective, on that first day I should probably just have thanked him for likening me to this beautiful bird. But that’s not something one thinks up at age seven.