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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus

Using its long, downcurved bill, the whimbrel feeds by probing into wet mud or by extracting animals from rocky crevices. It is one of eight similar species, collectively known as curlews, that have mottled brown plumage, sharply pointed wings, and bills up to 8 in (20 cm) long. The whimbrel’s bill is only half this length, but it is a precision instrument, with sensitive nerve-endings at its tip that enable the bird to feel for buried food. The whimbrel is strongly migratory, nesting inland across much of the far north, in marshy open country. At this time of the year, the male sings from high in the air, gradually descending on widely spread wings. After breeding, whimbrels head south along coastlines, reaching as far south as the tip of South America and New Zealand.

Whimbrelzoom image
  • Order Charadriiformes
  • Length 15–18 in (40–46 cm)
  • Weight 10–16 oz (270–450 g)
  • Habitat Arctic tundra, coasts, reefs, wetlands
  • Distribution N. Europe, Arctic (breeding); temperate and tropical coasts worldwide (non-breeding)
Whimbrel habitat mapzoom image