Key facts

Scientific name: Numenius phaeopus
Status: Breeding summer visitor

Breeding birds: 400-500 pairs

Wintering birds: 30 birds

Conservation status: Red
Length: 40 – 45 cm
Wingspan: 71 – 81 cm
Weight: 270 – 450 g


Whimbrels have dark brown upperparts with paler streaks and spots. The rump is white and tapers into a point in the middle of the back, and the tail is grey barred with brown and white edges. The underparts are pale buff with brown streaks, speckles, and stripes on the breast and flanks.

Whimbrels have a brown and buff mottled head with a dark brown crown, and a pale stripe from the forehead to the neck. The eyes are dark brown with a white eyebrow, the long, down-curved bill is dark brown with pink base on the lower mandible, and the legs and feet are blue-grey. Male and female whimbrels are similar, except the female is slightly larger.

Juveniles resemble adults but have more precise markings and a shorter bill.


Whimbrels breed from mid-April to May in loose colonies. The nest is a shallow depression on the ground in an open place. The female lines it with vegetation such as grass, moss, and lichen.

Whimbrels lay 4 pale green or olive-green eggs mottled with brown which are incubated by both parents but mainly the female for 24-28 days. Chicks are covered with buff down with darker mottles and leave the nest soon after hatching. Both adults care for the chicks and are aggressive towards intruders.

The female leaves the nest area first while the male remains until the chicks’ first flight which is usually at 4-6 weeks. They are sexually mature at 2 years.


Inland whimbrels eat small invertebrates including insects, larvae, worms, molluscs, and spiders. They will supplement their diet with plants, small berries, and seeds.

On the coast whimbrels will also eat shellfish, molluscs, fish, reptiles, and birds.


Where to see them

Whimbrels can be seen in the UK from April to September on their breeding grounds in northern Scotland, particularly Shetland or Orkney where their breeding population has been slowly increasing.

On passage migrant to and from their wintering grounds in Africa they can be found on the coast and sometimes inland.


Lars Edenius//xeno-canto

Did you know?

The genus assigned to the whimbrel, numenius, comes from the Ancient Greek noumenios which is derived from ‘new moon’ and refers to the crescent-shaped bill.

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