Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 6:39 EDT


The Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) is a species of wading bird found across most of sub-Arctic North America, Europe and Asia as far south as Scotland. In the British Isles it breeds in Scotland, particularly around Shetland, Orkney, the Outer Hebrides as well as the mainland at Sutherland and Caithness. It is a migratory species and winters on the coasts of Africa, South America, south Asia, Australasia, and southern North America. It is a coastal bird during migration. Four subspecies are recognized: N. p. phaeopus – northern Europe, northwestern Asia, N. p. variegatus – northeastern Asia, N. p. alboaxillaris – central Asia (rare, endangered), N. p. hudsonicus – northern North America.

The adult is 14.5 to 17.75 inches in length. It is mostly gray-brown, with a white back and rump (subspecies N. p. phaeopus and N. p. alboaxillaris only). It has a central crown stripe and a strong eyebrow. It has a long curved bill that is longest in the female. The bill has a kink, rather than a smooth curve. The call is a rippling whistle. The song is a prolonged trill.

The diet of the Whimbrel consists of small crabs and other small similar prey. It feeds by probing the soft mud. Prior to migration, berries become an important part of the bird’s diet. The nest is a bare scrape on tundra or Arctic moorland. The female lays three to five eggs. The adults are very defensive over their nesting area and will even attack humans who come too close to the nest.

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

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