Numenius phaeopus


The whimbrel is like a smaller version of the curlew which breeds on moorlands and uplands and can be seen on coastal habitats as it passes through on migration. On its breeding grounds, it feeds on ground insects, snails and slugs, swapping these tasty morsels for crustaceans, shrimps and molluscs when migrating.

How to identify

The whimbrel is streaky, greyish-brown with long, blue-grey legs and a long, down-curved, grey bill. It can be distinguished from the larger curlew by its shorter bill and strong face pattern with a dark crown, a pale stripe down the middle and dark eye-stripe. The call is a series of about seven whistles. When they fly whimbrel show a white wedge on the back and tail.

Where to find it

Nests on moorland in Shetland, Orkney and the far north of Scotland. Fairly common on migration on wetlands and wet grassland throughout the country.


When to find it

  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August

How can people help

Breeding populations of whimbrel have declined in recent years but may now be on the increase. Local Wildlife Trusts across the country are looking after wetland and coastal habitats for the benefit of wading birds like whimbrel. Ensuring breeding birds are not disturbed and farmers use wildlife-friendly farming practices are just some of the ways we're helping. And you can help too: volunteer for The Wildlife Trusts and you could be involved in everything from monitoring populations to managing upland habitats.

Species information

Common name
Latin name
Numenius phaeopus
Wading birds
Length: 40-46cm Wingspan: 82cm Weight: 430g Average Lifespan: 11 years
Conservation status
Classified in the UK as a Red List species under the Birds of Conservation Concern review.