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Whimbrel

Numenius phaeopus ORDER: CHARADRIIFORMES FAMILY: SCOLOPACIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

One of the most wide-ranging shorebirds in the world, the Whimbrel breeds in the Arctic in the eastern and western hemispheres, and migrates to South America, Africa, south Asia, and Australia. It uses its long, down-curved bill to probe deep in the sand of beaches for invertebrates, but also feeds on berries and insects.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
17.3 in
44 cm
Weight
10.9–17.4 oz
310–493 g
Other Names
  • Hudsonian Curlew (English)
  • Courlis corlieu (French)
  • Zarapito trinador (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Some migrating Whimbrels make a nonstop flight of 4,000 km (2,500 miles) from southern Canada or New England to South America.
  • Four distinct subspecies of Whimbrel are recognized: one breeds in North America, one from Iceland to northwest Siberia, one in southern Russia, and one in eastern Siberia. The American form was formerly considered a separate species, the Hudsonian Curlew. Whereas the Eurasian forms have white backs, and some white rumps, the American form has a brown rump and back.
  • In many regions, the primary winter food of the Whimbrel is crab. The curve of the Whimbrel's bill nicely matches the shape of fiddler crab burrows. The bird reaches into the crab's burrow, extracts the crab, washes it if it is muddy, and sometimes breaks off the claws and legs before swallowing it. Indigestible parts are excreted in fecal pellets.

Habitat


Shore-line

Breeds in various tundra habitat, from wet lowlands to dry heath. In migration, frequents various coastal and inland habitats, including fields and beaches. Winters in tidal flats and shorelines, occasionally visiting inland habitats.

Food


Insects

Primarily marine invertebrates, especially small crabs, but also insects, berries, and even flowers during breeding season.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–5 eggs
Egg Description
Blue-green to brownish or buff.
Condition at Hatching
Downy and active, may leave nest within one to two hours.
Nest Description

A shallow bowl on the ground, usually lined with leaves.

Nest Placement

Ground

Behavior


Ground Forager

In intertidal habitats in winter, inserts bill to various depths to pick prey. Locates prey visually. Picks berries with tip of bill, releases and catches berry in throat.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Numbers declined sharply during 19th century, because of hunting for sport and food. No definitive information is available on current population trends. The greatest current threat to the species is loss of coastal wetland habitat; environmental contamination, including cadmium wastes from mining in Chile, also poses increasing risks to the species.

Credits

  • Skeel, M. A., and E. P. Mallory. 1996. Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus). In The Birds of North America, No. 219 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and the American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Range Map Help

Whimbrel Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings