The whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a wader in the large family Scolopacidae. It is one of the most widespread of the curlews, breeding across much of subarctic North America, Asia and Europe as far south as Scotland.

The whimbrel is a migratory bird wintering on coasts in Africa, southern North America, South America, and South Asia into Australasia.[1] It is also a coastal bird during migration.[2] It is fairly gregarious outside the breeding season.

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Scolopacidae
Genus: Numenius
N. phaeopus
Binomial name
Numenius phaeopus
Numenius phaeopus map
  • Scolopax phæopus Linnaeus, 1758


This is a fairly large wader though mid-sized as a member of the curlew genus. The English name is imitative of the bird's call.[3] The genus name Numenius is from Ancient Greek noumenios, a bird mentioned by Hesychius. It is associated with the curlews because it appears to be derived from neos, "new" and mene "moon", referring to the crescent-shaped bill. The species name phaeopus is the Medieval Latin name for the bird, from Ancient Greek phaios, "dusky" and pous, "foot".[4]

It is 37–47 cm (15–19 in) in length, 75–90 cm (30–35 in) in wingspan, and 270–493 g (9.5–17.4 oz; 0.595–1.087 lb) in weight.[5] It is mainly greyish brown, with a white back and rump (subspecies N. p. phaeopus and N. p. alboaxillaris only), and a long curved bill (longest in the adult female) with a kink rather than a smooth curve. It is generally wary.

The usual call is a rippling whistle, prolonged into a trill for the song.

The only similar common species over most of this bird's range are larger curlews. The whimbrel is smaller, has a shorter, decurved bill and has a central crown stripe and strong supercilia.


There are seven subspecies:[6]


This species feeds by probing soft mud for small invertebrates and by picking small crabs and similar prey off the surface. Before migration, berries become an important part of their diet. It has also been observed taking insects, specifically blue tiger butterflies.[10]

The nest is a bare scrape on tundra or Arctic moorland. Three to five eggs are laid. Adults are very defensive of nesting area and will even attack humans who come too close.

Near the end of the 19th century, hunting on their migration routes took a heavy toll on this bird's numbers; the population has since recovered.

In the Ireland and Britain, it breeds in Scotland, particularly around Shetland, Orkney, the Outer Hebrides as well as the mainland at Sutherland and Caithness.

The whimbrel is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

Numenius phaeopus MHNT

Egg of whimbrel - MHNT

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus - Lonsoraefi, Iceland 1

Inflight whimbrel in Lónsöræfi, Iceland

Whimbrel (Fuerteventura)

Numenius phaeopus, on migration, Fuerteventura

Whimbrel from the Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland

ID composite

Faroe stamp 024 whimbrel

Whimbrel stamp of the Faroe Islands


  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2012). "Numenius phaeopus". The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN: e.T22693178A38790708. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012-1.RLTS.T22693178A38790708.en.
  2. ^ Birds. Collins Pocket Guide. 1998. p. 156.
  3. ^ "Whimbrel". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 276, 301. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  5. ^ "Whimbrel". All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
  6. ^ Gill, F.; Donsker, D., eds. (2014). "IOC World Bird List (v4.2)". doi:10.14344/IOC.ML.4.2. Retrieved 7 September 2014.
  7. ^ Gunnarsson, T. G.; Guðmundsson, G. A. (2016). "Migration and non-breeding distribution of Icelandic Whimbrels Numenius phaeopus islandicus as revealed by ringing recoveries" (PDF). Wader Study. 123 (1): 44−48. doi:10.18194/ws.00031.
  8. ^ Alves, J. A.; Dias, M. P.; Méndez, V.; Katrínardóttir, B.; Gunnarsson, T. G. (2016). "Very rapid long-distance sea crossing by a migratory bird". Scientific Reports. 6 (1): 38154. doi:10.1038/srep38154. PMC 5128861.
  9. ^ Carneiro, C.; Gunnarsson, T. G.; Alves, J. A. (2019). "Faster migration in autumn than in spring: seasonal migration patterns and non-breeding distribution of Icelandic whimbrels". Journal of Avian Biology. 50 (1). doi:10.1111/jav.01938.
  10. ^ Woodall, P.F. (1996). "Whimbrel feeding on Blue Tiger butterflies". Sunbird. Queensland Ornithological Society. 26 (2): 46–48. ISSN 1037-258X.

External links

A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In

A Cruel Bird Came to the Nest and Looked In is a novel by English author Magnus Mills published in 2011 by Bloomsbury.

Bridgwater Bay

Bridgwater Bay is on the Bristol Channel, 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) north of Bridgwater in Somerset, England at the mouth of the River Parrett and the end of the River Parrett Trail. It stretches from Minehead at the southwestern end of the bay to Brean Down in the north. The area consists of large areas of mudflats, saltmarsh, sandflats and shingle ridges, some of which are vegetated. It has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) covering an area of 3,574.1 hectares (35.741 km2; 13.800 sq mi) since 1989, and is designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. The risks to wildlife are highlighted in the local Oil Spill Contingency Plan.Several rivers, including the Parrett, Brue and Washford, drain into the bay. Man-made drainage ditches from the Somerset Levels, including the River Huntspill, also run into the bay. The mud flats provide a habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna. These include some nationally rare plants, beetles and snails. It is particularly important for over-wintering waders and wildfowl, with approximately 190 species recorded including whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa), dunlin (Calidris alpina) and wigeon (Anas penelope). Fishing has taken place using shallow boats, known as flatners, and fixed wooden structures for hundreds of years. It was also the last site in England used for 'mudhorse fishing'. There are several small harbours along the coast.

The low-lying areas of the bay have been subject to flooding, including the Bristol Channel floods of 1607 and many times since particularly around the Steart Peninsula. In response to this threat sea walls have been built at several points including at Burnham-on-Sea, Berrow and Blue Anchor to Lilstock Coast. The extensive mud flats and high tidal range have been the cause of several drownings and rescue services are now provided by the Burnham Area Rescue Boat.

Bristle-thighed curlew

The bristle-thighed curlew (Numenius tahitiensis) is a medium-sized shorebird that breeds in Alaska and winters on tropical Pacific islands. It has a long, decurved bill and bristled feathers at the base of the legs. Its length is about 40–44 cm and wingspan about 84 cm (females averaging bigger than males). The size and shape are the same as the whimbrel's, and the plumage is similar, spotted brown on their upper body with a light belly and rust-colored or buffy tail. The bigger buff spots on the upper body, unmarked light belly and barely marked flanks, tail color, and pale buffy-orange rump distinguish it from the whimbrel.

The population is estimated at 7,000.

Bristle-thighed curlews feed on a wide variety of vegetation such as flowers and berries and on insects, sea life, and other bird's eggs, which they break open with rocks — the only tool use among shorebirds.

The bird is rarely seen near populated land masses, with only a handful of sightings in Canada, California and Oregon. It was first described scientifically during James Cook's visits to Tahiti in the 18th century, but its nesting grounds were not identified until 1948.

Nesting grounds are on the lower Yukon River and Seward Peninsula, with the birds preferring low-lying tundra near the shoreline. Nests are built in ground depressions and lined with tundra moss. Eggs are greenish with brown spots, with four to a clutch and one brood per season. Incubation lasts 25 days, with both parents tending the nest and protecting the newly hatched chicks.

Adults leave their chicks at about five weeks of age to migrate south. The chicks continue to feed until they are able to make the journey. The first leg of the migration includes a nonstop 4,000 km flight from Alaska to Laysan. They can make non-stop flights in excess of 6,000 km.

Bristle-thighed curlews are unique among shorebirds in that they are flightless during molt. Also, their migration departures consist of small flocks and have no diurnal patterns.

Its winter habitat is tropical Oceania, and includes Micronesia, Fiji, Tuvalu, Tonga, Hawaiian Islands, Samoa, French Polynesia and Tongareva (Penrhyn atoll). There is concern over encroachment and introduced predators in their winter habitat.

Champagny Island

Champagny Island is an island off the coast of the Kimberley region in Western Australia.

Located on the western side of Camden Sound and part of the Champagny Islands group within the Bonaparte Archipelago, the island encompasses an area of 1,337 hectares (3,304 acres).The traditional owners of the area are the Dambimangari peoples of the Worrorran languages group whose name for the island is Nimenba.The island was named by Nicholas Baudin in 1801 after the French diplomat and statesman, Jean-Baptiste de Nompère de Champagny, 1st duc de Cadore.Birds found on the island include the brown quail, eastern reef egret, brown falcon, whimbrel, beach stone-curlew, sooty oystercatcher, bar-shouldered dove, Horsfield's bronze-cuckoo, rainbow bee-eater and the red-capped plover.It lies within the Camden Sound Marine Park that was gazetted in 2012 and covers an area of 7,062 square kilometres (2,727 sq mi). The park is the second largest in Western Australia after Shark Bay and links to the Prince Regent National Park. The area also includes Montgomery Reef and St George Basin.

Chkalov Island

Chkalov Island (Остров Чкалова; Ostrov Chkalova), formerly Udd Island (Остров Удд), is a coastal island in the southern end of the Sea of Okhotsk. It is located off Schastya Bay, between the shorebound lagoon and the sea. Baydukov Island lies only 2 km off its east-southeast tip.

Chkalov Island is long and narrow. It is 20.5 km long and has an average width of 1 km.

This island is a natural habitat for many birds, like the great knot, red-necked stint, dunlin, whimbrel, bar-tailed godwit and the common sandpiper. Beluga whales are common off its northern waters.

Administratively Chkalov Island belongs to the Khabarovsk Krai of the Russian Federation.

Druridge Bay curlew

The Druridge Bay curlew was a curlew that was present in Druridge Bay, Northumberland in May 1998, whose species identification proved to be controversial. The bird was identified by its finder, and most others who saw it, as a first-summer slender-billed curlew, one of the rarest birds in the world; however, this identification provoked scepticism from some quarters. The bird was initially accepted as this species (and therefore became the first record of slender-billed curlew in Britain) by the British Birds Rarities Committee and the British Ornithologists’ Union Records Committee - however, this identification was eventually rejected in 2013 (Collinson et al 2014)

Eurasian curlew

The Eurasian curlew or common curlew (Numenius arquata) is a wader in the large family Scolopacidae. It is one of the most widespread of the curlews, breeding across temperate Europe and Asia. In Europe, this species is often referred to just as the "curlew", and in Scotland known as the "whaup" in Scots.

This is the largest wader in its range, at 50–60 cm (20–24 in) in length, with an 89–106 cm (35–42 in) wingspan and a body weight of 410–1,360 g (0.90–3.00 lb). It is mainly greyish brown, with a white back, greyish-blue legs and a very long curved bill. Males and females look identical, but the bill is longest in the adult female. It is generally not possible to recognize the sex of a single Eurasian curlew, or even several ones, as there is much variation; telling male and female of a mated pair apart is usually possible however.

The familiar call is a loud curloo-oo.

The only similar species over most of the curlew's range is the whimbrel (N. phaeopus). The whimbrel is smaller and has a shorter bill with a kink rather than a smooth curve. Flying curlews may also resemble bar-tailed godwits (Limosa lapponica) in their winter plumages; however, the latter have a smaller body, a slightly upturned beak, and legs that do not reach far beyond their tail tips. The Eurasian curlew's feet are longer, forming a conspicuous "point".

The curlew exists as a migratory species over most of its range, wintering in Africa, southern Europe and south Asia. Occasionally a vagrant individual reaches places far from its normal range, such as Nova Scotia and the Marianas. It is present all year in the milder climates of Ireland and the United Kingdom and its adjacent European coasts.

Glamorgan Bird Club

The Glamorgan Bird Club is based in Glamorgan in South Wales, and is dedicated to the study and conservation of the county's avifauna. Membership ranges from beginners and back-garden birdwatchers to those who are professionally involved in conservation. Its common interest is the enjoyment of birds.

A full program of events is run annually, with indoor meetings on a wide range of subjects and outdoor meetings led by experienced birdwatchers to a number of locations both locally and further afield.

Club members get a quarterly newsletter, giving up-to-date news and information. Each year a comprehensive report, free to members, on the status of birds in the region is published. Birdwatchers throughout the area submit reports to the County Recorder. Over time, an invaluable database of the region's bird life is accumulating.

The club also produces relevant publications from time to time, including "Birding in Glamorgan" (2009), a guide to over 50 of the best places in Glamorgan for bird-watching.

In association with the Gower Ornithological Society, it runs a website, which includes a sightings page and a forum where members discuss topics of interest locally.

The club's crest is a little whimbrel (Numenius minutus), which marks the discovery of that species at Sker Point in 1982. This was the first record for this species in the United Kingdom, and the second in the Western Palearctic, too (the first had been in Norway in 1969).

In 2009, the club became a Registered Charity (No. 1129684).

HMS Whimbrel (U29)

HMS Whimbrel is the last surviving Royal Navy warship present at the Japanese Surrender in World War II. She was a sloop of the Black Swan-class, laid down on 31 October 1941 to the pennant number of U29 at the famed yards of Yarrow Shipbuilders, Scotstoun, Glasgow.

List of Empire ships (U–Z)

Hundreds of Empire ships were employed by the Government of the United Kingdom. They were acquired from a number of sources: many were built for the government; others obtained from the United States; still others were captured or seized from enemy powers. Empire ships were mostly used during World War II by the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT), which owned the ships but contracted out their management to various shipping lines; however, some ships requisitioned during the Suez Crisis were also named as Empire ships. Most Empire ships have since been lost or scrapped; however a few still remain in active service or preserved.

Little curlew

The little curlew (Numenius minutus) is a wader in the large bird family Scolopacidae. It is a very small curlew, which breeds in the far north of Siberia. It is closely related to the North American Eskimo curlew.

The word "curlew" is imitative of the Eurasian curlew's call, but may have been influenced by the Old French corliu, "messenger", from courir , "to run". It was first recorded in 1377 in Langland's Piers Plowman. The genus name Numenius is from Ancient Greek noumenios, a bird mentioned by Hesychius. It is associated with the curlews because it appears to be derived from neos, "new", and mene, "moon", referring to the crescent-shaped bill. The species name is from Latin minutus, "small".This is a strongly migratory species, wintering in Australasia. It is a very rare vagrant to western Europe, including once in Blankenberge, Belgium, in September 2010.

This bird breeds in loose colonies in forest clearings in river valleys. The nest is a ground scrape. It winters inland on grassland, cultivation or near fresh water, mainly in northern Australia but also as far south as St Kilda, South Australia. It is gregarious, forming sizeable flocks. This species feeds by probing soft mud for small invertebrates.

It is mainly greyish brown, including the underwings, with a white belly, and a short, for a curlew, curved bill. It has a head pattern like a whimbrel, with crown and superciliary stripes. The call is a repetitive whistle.

Manawatu Estuary

The Manawatu Estuary is an estuary at the mouth of the Manawatu River, near Foxton in the lower North Island of New Zealand. It is a wetland of international significance as one of the few Ramsar sites in New Zealand.

At approximately 250 hectares (620 acres), the Manawatu Estuary is the largest estuary in the lower North Island.A total of 93 different bird species have been identified at the estuary. In 2005 the estuary attained Ramsar status.During spring migratory birds arrive for the summer at the estuary, including the bar-tailed godwit, red knot, Pacific golden plover, Japanese snipe, wandering tattler and whimbrel.

Muzhappilangad Beach

Muzhappilangad Drive-in Beach (5.5 km length) is a beach in the state of Kerala in southwestern India. It is located parallel to National Highway 66(formerly National Highway 17) between Thalassery and Kannur.

Punta Patiño

Punta Patiño is a nature reserve area in Panama. The 65,025 acre preserve is owned by conservation group ANCON. The area is on the List of Ramsar wetlands of international importance.

Fauna in the reserve include harpy eagles, three-toed sloths, capybaras, bottlenose dolphins, crocodiles, jaguar, and humpback whales. Bird species include black oropendola, brown pelicans, frigate birds, terns, oystercatchers, willet, whimbrel, and spotted sandpiper, kingfishers, white ibis, heron, and laughing gulls.

Puxton Moor

Puxton Moor (grid reference ST412630) is a 31.07 ha (76.8 acres) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest on the North Somerset Levels, near Puxton, North Somerset, notified in 1994. It is a large area of pasture land networked with species-rich rhynes, now owned and managed as a nature reserve by Avon Wildlife Trust.

The rhynes contain rare plants such as frogbit and rootless duckweed, along with many scarce invertebrates such as the hairy dragonfly and water scorpion. Birds seen at the site include; skylark, reed and sedge warblers, whimbrel, whitethroat and reed bunting.The site also contains a relict Roman landscape which is evident in many of the fields; Medieval earthworks are also present.


Sinderhope is a village situated on the east Allen Valley in south-west Northumberland.

The population is spread over farms in an area approximately 25 square miles (65 km2). The population is around 80. The mainstay of employment is sheep-farming.

Wildlife is plentiful with many examples of rare birds of Great Britain, such as the black grouse, capercaillie, whimbrel and curlew.

The local beauty spot is a ford with wild flowers and a wood. The area is known as "old man's bottom" for reasons that are unknown.

The whole area is part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Stert Island

Stert Island is a low-lying uninhabited island in the Bristol Channel, off the coast of Somerset, England. It lies opposite Burnham-on-Sea, and is part of the Bridgwater Bay Nature Reserve.

Stert Island was formed in about 1798, when it broke off from the Steart Peninsula. The island is noted for its birds, including spotted redshank and whimbrel, which have a major night roost on the island.Each year a 2.4 km swim is organised from Burnham-on-Sea to the island.Administratively the island is in the civil parish of Otterhampton. Until 1885 it was in the parish of Stogursey, and from then until 1933 it was in the parish of Huntspill.For location, see map referenced (requires satellite view)

Torrens Island Conservation Park

Torrens Island Conservation Park (formerly Torrens Island National Park Reserve and Torrens Island Wild-life Reserve) is a protected area in the Australian state of South Australia located on Torrens Island in the Adelaide metropolitan area about 17 kilometres (11 miles) north-northwest of the state capital of Adelaide and about 3.9 kilometres (2.4 miles) north-northeast of Port Adelaide.The conservation park consists of land in Allotments 300 and 304 in Deposited Plan 90964, and sections 464 and 467 in the cadastral unit of the Hundred of Port Adelaide. This consists of all of Torrens Island down to low water with exception to the most of land associated with the former quarantine station and the land associated with the Quarantine and Torrens Island Power Stations, and some land exposed at low water at the eastern end of Garden Island.On 28 November 1963, land in section 467 was proclaimed as a "wild-life reserve" under the National Park and Wild Life Reserves Act 1891. On 9 November 1967, it was proclaimed as the Torrens Island National Park Reserve under the National Parks Act 1966 in respect to section 467 in the Hundred of Port Adelaide. On 27 April 1972, it was reconstituted as Torrens Island Conservation Park upon the proclamation of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972. On 23 January 2014, the following land in the Hundred of Port Adelaide was added to the conservation park all subject to the preservation of rights under the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Act 2000 for the "construction or operation of a transmission pipeline" - Allotments 300 and 304 in Deposited Plan 90964, and Section 464. As of 2016, it covered an area of 6.35 square kilometres (2.45 sq mi).

In 1980, the conservation park was described as follows:Situated at the northern end of Torrens Island, which lies near the mouth of the Port River, this park preserves a salt-marsh land system. The vegetation comprises a low woodland of Avicennia marina var. resinifera (white mangrove) and low-shrubland of Salicornia spp. and Arthrocnemum. Over thirty species of salt tolerant plants have been recorded for the park. The marshes breed a myriad of worms, shrimps and simple organisms on which fish feed, helping to stock the Port River for fishing and providing food for over forty species of birds. The latter include a number of rare or uncommon summer visiting waders, ie. Tringa terek (terek sandpiper), Limosa lapponica (bar-tailed godwit), Numenius minutus (whimbrel) and Pluvialis dominica (lesser golden plover) ... The park is relatively undisturbed, although rabbits, which cross from the mainlands at low tide, are very common on the Island.

In 2014, it was reported as protecting ‘areas of mangrove forest, samphire shrubland and sand dune systems home to vulnerable and threatened species such as the Australasian bittern, the fairy tern and the white-bellied sea eagle’.The conservation park is also respectively fully and partially within the boundaries of the following protected areas - the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary and the Barker Inlet-St Kilda Aquatic Reserve.The conservation park is classified as an IUCN Category III protected area. In 1980, it was listed on the now-defunct Register of the National Estate

Viking Wind Farm

Viking Wind Farm is a proposed wind farm being developed by Viking Energy, a partnership between Shetland Islands Council and SSE plc.

Initially proposed as a 150 turbine 600 MW project in 2009, the scheme had significant opposition, on grounds including effects on wildlife, and the general environment; part of the wind farm was also removed because of a potential interference with equipment at Scatsta Airport.

A 370 MW wind farm received planning permission in 2012, but an objection by Sustainable Shetland was successful in Sep 2013 on the grounds of inadequate assessment of impact on the Whimbrel bird, and on licensing regulations relating to the 1989 Electricity Act. This decision was subsequently overturned by two higher courts in 2014 and 2015.

Birds (class: Aves)
Fossil birds
Human interaction

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