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Common Name: Whimbrel
Scientific Name: Numenius phaeopus

Size: 17.5 inches (44.5 cm)

Habitat: Worldwide; breeds in the Arctic in the eastern and western hemispheres, and migrates to South America, Africa, south Asia, and Australia. Breeds in various tundra habitat, from wet lowlands to dry heath. In migration, frequents various coastal and inland habitats, including fields and beaches. Winters in tidal flats and shorelines, occasionally visiting inland habitats.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 1,000,000-2,300,000. Numbers declined sharply during 19th century, because of hunting for sport and food. No definitive information is available on current population trends. The greatest current threat to the species is loss of coastal wetland habitat; environmental contamination, including cadmium wastes from mining in Chile, also poses increasing risks to the species. The species is susceptible to avian influenza so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus. Whimbrels are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 in the US.

Diet: Primarily marine invertebrates, especially small crabs, but also insects, berries, and even flowers during breeding season. It uses its long, down-curved bill to probe deep in the sand of beaches for invertebrates and it picks berries with tip of bill, then releases and catches the berry in its throat.

Nesting: Both sexes are similar with the female being larger. The immature are similar to the adult. During breeding season, lower beaks turn pinkish.

Nest is a shallow bowl on the ground, usually lined with leaves. 2-5 Blue-green or brown to buff eggs are laid. Adults are very defensive of nesting area and will even attack humans who come too close. It is fairly gregarious outside the breeding season.

Cool Facts: It is the one of the most widespread of the curlews, breeding across much of subarctic North America, Europe and Asia as far south as Scotland.

There are four distinct subspecies of Whimbrel are recognized: one breeds in North America, one from Iceland to northwest Siberia, one in southern Russia, and one in eastern Siberia. The American form was formerly considered a separate species, the Hudsonian Curlew. Whereas the Eurasian forms have white backs, and some white rumps, the American form has a brown rump and back.

Some migrating Whimbrels make a nonstop flight of 4,000 km (2,500 miles) from southern Canada or New England to South America.

In many regions, the primary winter food of the Whimbrel is crab. The curve of the Whimbrel's bill nicely matches the shape of fiddler crab burrows. The bird reaches into the crab's burrow, extracts the crab, washes it if it is muddy, and sometimes breaks off the claws and legs before swallowing it. Indigestible parts are excreted in fecal pellets.

Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume 3: Small Waders

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