Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Whimbrel

Numenius phaeopus

The most widespread of the curlews, nesting in the Arctic across North America and Eurasia, wintering on the coasts of six continents. Whimbrels tend to concentrate in flocks at a few favored spots in migration, so that the observer sees either many of them or else very small numbers. The name "Whimbrel," originating in England, apparently began as a loose interpretation of the bird's call.
Conservation status Numbers were seriously depleted by market hunters in late 19th century, have recovered somewhat since.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat Shores, mudflats, marshes, tundra. Found on a wide variety of habitats on migration. Most common on mudflats, but also found on rocky shores, sandy beaches, salt marshes, flooded agricultural fields, grassy fields near coast. In summer, breeds on Arctic tundra.
The most widespread of the curlews, nesting in the Arctic across North America and Eurasia, wintering on the coasts of six continents. Whimbrels tend to concentrate in flocks at a few favored spots in migration, so that the observer sees either many of them or else very small numbers. The name "Whimbrel," originating in England, apparently began as a loose interpretation of the bird's call.
Photo Gallery
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Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking on open flats, picking up items from surface or probing just below surface; despite long bill, does not seem to probe deeply. When feeding on crabs, may break off legs and crush shell before swallowing body of crab.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3. Olive to buff, blotched with shades of brown. Incubation is by both sexes, roughly 24-28 days. Young: Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young feed themselves. Adults actively attack predators flying over nesting area, and will fly straight at human intruders, swerving aside at last moment. Age of young at first flight about 5-6 weeks.


Young

Downy young leave nest soon after hatching. Both parents tend young, but young feed themselves. Adults actively attack predators flying over nesting area, and will fly straight at human intruders, swerving aside at last moment. Age of young at first flight about 5-6 weeks.

Diet

Includes insects, crustaceans, berries. On breeding grounds may feed mostly on insects at first, but berries (such as crowberry and cranberry) become major part of diet by late summer. On coast, often eats many crabs, also amphipods and other crustaceans, marine worms, small mollusks.


Nesting

Early in breeding season, male performs flight display over nesting territory: flies in large circles, alternately fluttering higher and gliding down, while giving whistling and bubbling song. On ground, members of pair may call together. Nest site is on ground, usually in dry raised area near low-lying wet tundra. Nest (probably built mostly by female) is shallow depression, lined with bits of lichen, moss, grass.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Has a wide wintering range, from our Pacific and southeastern coasts to southern South America. Whimbrels from European and Asian races, with white on lower back and rump, sometimes stray to North America.

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Migration

Has a wide wintering range, from our Pacific and southeastern coasts to southern South America. Whimbrels from European and Asian races, with white on lower back and rump, sometimes stray to North America.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A series of 5-7 loud, clear, whistled notes: pip-pip-pip-pip-pip.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Sandpipers Sandpiper-like Birds

Whimbrel

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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