Common Name

Scientific Name

Photo by Bruce A. Sorrie
Photo Copyright Bruce A. Sorrie

The whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus, is a large wading shorebird with a long downward curving bill. There are two disjunct breeding populations of whimbrel. One breeds in coastal and central Alaska, western Yukon (Canada), and northwestern Mackenzie (Canada). The other population breeds to the west and the south of Hudson Bay. Most whimbrels migrate along the coasts of North America to reach their wintering grounds on the coasts of the southern United States, Mexico, and Central America. Some individuals will migrate inland, which accounts for the rare transients that reach Utah, typically during the spring.

The whimbrel breeds in open areas on alpine tundra in a variety of habitats, ranging from dry uplands to poorly drained lowlands. During the winter, it prefers mud flats, but it can also be found in mangroves, in marshes, on beaches, and in some terrestrial habitats, such as dunes and meadows. The whimbrel eats an assortment of food items, including crabs, worms, mollusks, and fishes. During the breeding season, the diet also includes insects, berries, and flowers. Pairs form long-term pair bonds, and each male establishes a territory as soon the snow melts. Both parents incubate four eggs in an unconcealed, lightly lined nest bowl which is scraped out of the ground or pressed into vegetation. Eggs hatch after three or four weeks. Hatchlings are very independent at birth. They leave the nest just a few hours after hatching, and are capable of finding their own food, though they will follow their parents. Both parents care for the young initially, but sometime between three days and two weeks, the mother ceases care-giving; the father remains with the young until they fledge at about 5 weeks of age.


  • Behle, W. H., Sorensen, E. D. and C. M. White. 1985. Utah birds: a revised checklist. Utah Museum of Natural History, Occasional Publication No. 4. Salt Lake City, UT.

  • Skeel, M. A., and E. P. Mallory. 1996. Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus). Birds of North America 219.

  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birderís handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.