Physical Description

  • Adult: large bird with large body, long neck, and small head. Brown, mottled feathers over whole body with dark brown stripes on head. Dark legs, and a distinct long, curved, black bill.
  • European adults have a white patch on rump, very visible in flight, and whiter base feathers.
  • Juvenile: Look like adult except for shorter bill and buff-colored belly, no mottling, and clean plumage throughout.


  • There are four subspecies around the world, including in coastal North America, South America, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Australia.
  • Breeding: the breeding grounds are in the tundra, in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia, and Russia. In North America, breeding grounds are in the farthest north parts of Canada and Alaska in the tundra.
  • Non-breeding: In North America: the non-breeding population is found right along the coastline of the US West Coast, the US Southeast, Mexico, and Central America.
  • Migrating: they migrate along the West and East Coasts of North America, as well as over the Great Lakes


  • Live by beaches, mudflats, marshes, lagoons, estuaries, and rocky reefs when not nesting.
  • Live in tundra when nesting.


  • Nests are built on a raised site, usually near a bush to shelter from the wind.
  • Nests usually built in spot with good visibility and in spot that is dry.
  • Nests are lined with leaves, grass, and lichens.
  • The female lays 2-4 eggs that will hatch in 22-28 days. The eggs are 2-2.6 inches long and blue-green to brownish in coloration.
  • The hatchlings are active and covered in down upon hatching, and can leave the nest within the first day.


  • Fiddler crabs, swimming crabs, mud crabs, crayfish, small fish, marine worms, sea cucumbers, sand shrimp, small mollusks.
  • Berries and insects, especially during migration and nesting.


  • Red foxes, large raptors, Gyrfalcon prey on adults.
  • Gulls, jaegers, common ravens, Northern Harriers, Golden Eagles, Rough-legged Hawks, Gyrfalcons, Sand-Hill Cranes, arctic foxes, Short-eared Owls, weasels, red foxes, snowy owls, Peregrine Falcons, and gray wolves all prey on whimbrel eggs and young.

Interesting Facts

  • Numenius, the genus name of the whimbrel, means New Moon in Greek, and refers to the shape of their beak.
  • Some migrating whimbrels make a nonstop flight of 2,500 miles from southern Canada to South America! 
  • When they eat a crab, they often use their curved beak to grab it out of its burrow, then rinse the mud off of it and remove its largest claw before consuming it..

Hear a Whimbrel’s alarm call

Hear a Whimbrel singing

Sources:;; Ornithologi; Audubon Field Guide

Photo: Nigella Hillgarth