Whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus Click to enlarge image
Whimbrel, Numenius phaeopus Image: Ray Turnbull

Fast Facts

  • IUCN Conservation Status
  • Classification
  • Size Range
    40 cm to 45 cm

A Whimbrel that was banded in New South Wales was re-captured on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Siberia.

What do Whimbrels look like?


The Whimbrel is a medium-sized curlew, which is mainly streaked brown, with twin dark streaks along the crown and bill. The bill is long and slightly de-curved (curved downwards), with a pink lower base. The legs and neck are long. The body is white below, with coarsely streaked brown upperparts. In flight, the light-coloured rump and streaked tail is obvious. Whimbrels feed in small groups and roost in large flocks, often with other waders.

Where do Whimbrels live?


Whimbrels are found mainly on the coast, on tidal and estaurine mudflats, especially near mangroves. They are sometimes found on beaches and rocky shores.


Whimbrels are common across northern Australia and uncommon to rare further south. They breed in central Siberia to Iceland. The subspecies variegatus is the one mainly found in Australia and also the Bay of Bengal through to Melanesia, Micronesia and to New Zealand in small numbers.

What do Whimbrels eat and how do they communicate?

Feeding and diet

Whimbrels feed on intertidal mudflats by day and night, on worms, crustaceans and occasionally fish and nestling birds. They run nimbly and take prey by probing with their long curved bills in the mud or pecking briskly at the surface.


The commonest call is a far-carrying rippling 'bibibibibibibi'.

What are Whimbrels breeding behaviours?

Breeding Behaviour/s

The migratory Whimbrels breed widely in the Arctic Circle, on drier and higher ground than the Eastern Curlew. The males display over their territory, rising high in the air with rapidly vibrating wingbeats, then spiralling down again. The eggs and chicks have cryptic colouring, speckled to be hidden in their shallow nest among the grass and other vegetation.

Breeding Season: May to August.


Whimbrels are migratory, moving north from Australia to breed in the northern hemisphere, leaving the north and north east coasts by late April. On return to Australia, they move down the coast of east Asia, leaving the breeding areas in July, along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway, arriving in the north of Australia from August to October, then moving southwards along the east coast. Small numbers over-winter in Australia and there is some local movement.

Economic/social impacts

Threats on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (the migration route to Australia) include economic and social pressures such as wetland destruction and change, pollution and hunting.