WhimbrelNumernius phaeopus

  • Sandy Beach & Dunes
  • Sandy shores
  • Fauna
  • Native


The whimbrel (Numernius phaeopus) is a shorebird that is part of the large family of Scolopacidae – sandpipers. More specifically, the genus Numernius refers to the curlews, which have long slender, downcurved bills and mottled brown plumage. They are a fully migratory species wintering on coasts throughout Africa, South America and South Asia into Australia and southern North America. The bird measures between 37 and 47 centimeters in length and has a wingspan of 75 to 90 centimeters. It is distinguished by its long-curved bill, its greyish brown plumage and white back and rump. It is also recognized on shores by its rippling whistle which is prolonged into a trill.[1]


[1] Van Gils, J., Wiersma, P. & Kirwan, G.M. 2018. Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/53894 on 17 August 2018).

Habitat and ecology

The whimbrel is a fully migratory species which travels over land with a few staging areas on route. They breed in the boreal, subarctic and subalpine zones in moorland, dry scrub heathland, moss and lichen tundra, birch forest and tundras near the treeline, open montane forest and river valleys, including on farmland. During migration they are found in inland grasslands where they feed, eventually becoming mostly coastal during winter and foraging in exposed reefs, muddy, rocky or sandy shores, tidal mudflats and mangrove swamps as well as rice fields. They are known to roost communally in mangroves. Their feeding habits depend on where the species is located and at the point of their migration. Inland, their diet may include insects, spiders, millipedes, earthworms, snails and slugs. While on coasts, they forage for crabs and small crustaceans, worms and rarely fish, reptiles and birds.


Conservation and management

The species is classified as ‘Least Concern’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Although it does not yet meet the criteria for vulnerable, the population of the species has unfortunately been steadily declining over the past 40 years. Habitat fragmentation may account for local declines. Some of the major threats to the species also includes future outbreaks of the avian influenza.[1]


[1] BirdLife International. 2016.  Numenius phaeopus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22693178A86585436. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22693178A86585436.en. Downloaded on 17 August 2018.


Did you know?

Whimbrels hold records in the fastest recorded speeds for terrestrial birds on long-distance flights over oceanic waters, travelling between 18 and 24 meters per second, or between approximately 3900 and 5500 kilometers in five days.