Living Bird Magazine
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Scolopacidae
An elegant, brownish shorebird with a very long, curved bill, the Whimbrel announces itself with effervescent, piping calls. It occupies open habitats—tundra for nesting; and mudflats, beaches, and saltmarshes the rest of the year. Whimbrels feed mostly on crabs and other marine invertebrates, which they extract from sand or mud using their outrageous bills. They also eat berries and insects when available. They migrate between arctic nesting areas and wintering grounds as far south as Bolivia, sometimes having to skirt hurricanes as they fly over open ocean.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Whimbrels are relatively large shorebirds that live on open tundra, beaches, and mudflats, so a scan of their habitat is usually sufficient to turn them up. Along the coast, look for them on a falling or newly low tide; as the tide rises, they move to high-tide roosts, often in saltmarshes or on small islands. As with all shorebirds, they can disappear in the distance. Spotting scopes are useful for finding far-off birds and getting better looks; if you don’t have one, try joining a bird walk and the guide will likely have one. Listen for their mellow, piping whistles for advance notice that the birds are around.
- Zarapito Trinador (Spanish)
- Courlis corlieu (French)
- Cool Facts
- Numenius, the genus assigned to Whimbrel, means “new moon” in Greek, a reference to the bird’s bill shape, which resembles a crescent moon.
- Hope was the name given to a female Whimbrel captured on the coast of Virginia in 2009 and fitted with a satellite transmitter. Over the next three years, researchers Hope for more than 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers) traveling back and forth between her breeding area on the Mackenzie River in western Canada and her wintering site, at Great Pond on St. Croix, British Virgin Islands. She returned to her wintering grounds for five more seasons, recognized there by her leg band. The subject of a children’s book, Hope became an ambassador for shorebird migrants—and ultimately was the reason for the preservation and protection of Great Pond.
- Some migrating Whimbrels make a nonstop overwater flight of 4,000 km (2,500 miles) from southern Canada or New England to South America.
- In many regions, the primary winter food of the Whimbrel is fiddler 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.
- The oldest recorded Whimbrel was at least 14 years old when it was recaptured and rereleased in Manitoba.