©Tom Hibbert


Scientific name: Numenius phaeopus
The Whimbrel is very similar to the Curlew, but a little smaller and with a striking face pattern. Its eerie call is a series of seven whistles; listen out for it around the coast as its passes through on migration.

Species information


Length: 40-46cm
Wingspan: 82cm
Weight: 430g
Average lifespan: 11 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Red under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.

When to see

April to August


The Whimbrel is like a smaller version of the Curlew; it breeds on moorlands and uplands and can be seen at 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 a streaky, greyish-brown wader, with long, blue-grey legs and a long, downcurved, grey bill. It can be distinguished from the larger Curlew by its shorter bill and strong head pattern: a dark crown, a pale stripe down the middle, and a dark eyestripe. When they fly, Whimbrel show a white wedge on the back and tail.


Nests on moorland in Shetland, Orkney and the far north of Scotland. Can be spotted as a passage migrant on some inland wetlands and around most of the UK's coast.

Did you know?

Apart from the Whimbrel and Curlew, there are six other species of curlew in the world, two of which - the Eskimo Curlew of North America and the Slender-billed Curlew of Eastern Europe - may be extinct.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many wetland and coastal nature reserves for the benefit of the wildlife they support. You can help by supporting your local Trust and becoming a member; you'll find out about exciting wildlife news, events on your doorstep and volunteering opportunities, and will be helping local wildlife along the way.