Whimbrel

Whimbrel

Scientific name: Numenius phaeopus

Did you know: Whimbrels, with their elegant presence, announce themselves with a series of seven distinctive whistles. Their unique calls are not only a means of communication but also serve as a fascinating feature of these migratory birds.

What Do Whimbrels Look Like? (How to Identify Them)

The Whimbrel is a large wading bird that boasts long legs. It has a distinctive long bill that curves slightly near the tip. 

Brown-coloured above and white below, it displays a white ‘V’ shape up its back in flight. Notably, it breeds exclusively in the northern parts of Scotland in the UK. 

Identified by a dark crown, a pale stripe down the middle, and a dark eyestripe, the Whimbrel is slightly smaller than its close relative, the curlew. Its wingspan ranges from 71 to 81cm, and it weighs between 270-450g.

Differences Between Male And Female Whimbrels

Sexual dimorphism in Whimbrels is not readily apparent in external characteristics. Both males and females share similar plumage and physical features. The key distinctions lie in their behaviour, vocalisations, and reproductive roles rather than visual traits.

What Do Whimbrels Eat?

On their breeding grounds, Whimbrels feed on snails, insects, and slugs. During migration, their diet shifts to shrimps, mollusks, crabs, and worms. Interestingly, before migration, berries become a significant part of their diet. These adaptable birds can even be observed taking insects, particularly blue tiger butterflies.

Where Do Whimbrels Live? (Including Migration Info)

Whimbrels nest on moorland in Shetland, Orkney, and the far north of Scotland. As passage migrants, they travel in spring and autumn between their breeding grounds and wintering areas in Africa. 

The Shetland and Orkney breeding population has been gradually increasing. You can spot them in coastal habitats during migration or inland on wetlands and around the UK’s coast. 

Bird Calls & Songs (The Unique Voices of Whimbrels)

Whimbrels are known for their eerie call, a series of seven whistles. This vocalisation is a defining characteristic and is often heard around the coast as they pass through on migration. Listen out for these distinctive calls, especially in areas where water is very shallow, as they probe mudflats or wet sand for invertebrates.

Fun Whimbrel Facts (Kid-Friendly)

  • They are like smaller versions of the curlew, with distinct face patterns.
  • Apart from Whimbrels and curlews, there are six other species of curlews globally.
  • Whimbrels migrate between their arctic nesting areas and wintering grounds, facing challenges like skirting hurricanes.
  • Numenius, the genus assigned to Whimbrel, means “new moon” in Greek, referencing their crescent-shaped bills.

Facts About The Whimbrel

Diet: On breeding grounds insects, snails and slugs; on passage, crabs, shrimps, molluscs, worms.
Bird Family: Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes
Length: 40-46cm
Wingspan: 71-81cm
Weight: 270-450g
Scientific Name: Numenius phaeopus

The Whimbrel Can Be Seen In The UK During The Following Months

  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September

Whimbrel Images

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Male
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Female
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Hatchling
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Nestling
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Chick
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Fledgling
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Juvenile