Whimbrel

Numenius phaeopus

40-42cm

Appearance

A large wader that is a third smaller than the Curlew; its legs are relatively shorter and its bill is more straight with a steep bend near the tip. The sexes resemble each other and the head markings are distinct; the crown is pale with two dark, lateral bands. The eye has a buff stripe above it and a dark line through it, and the cheeks and throat are pale. The plumage is grey-brown, darkest at the centre of the back, and darkly streaked on the neck and breast. Juveniles resemble adults, though their buffish plumage is a warmer tone. When flying, may appear like Curlew; the upperwings are dark, the tail is barred and in contrast to the rump, which makes a white 'V' shape between the wings.

Habitat

Breeding occurs only in Scotland in the region, predominately in Shetland. Breeding territories are usually on boggy moorland, short heather and grassland. Otherwise is found mostly close to the coast, particularly near estuaries, coastal grasslands and saltmarshes.

Character

Probes and pecks at soft surfaces for food. Often seen in smaller groups and when these groups fly, they may form 'V' formations. Groups of birds assemble at points along migration path to rest and eat.

Food

Coastal diet consists of periwinkles, dog whelks, crabs, sandhoppers and shrimps. When inland, it eats small snails, slugs, worms, spiders and insects.

Breeding

Female makes a scrape-nest on the ground, either in the open or amidst short vegetation. She lays 4 eggs which both adults incubate for approximately 27 days. Hatchlings can feed themselves but remain under care of both parents, and can fly after about 35 days.

Population

Migrant birds depart northern breeding grounds in July and quickly make their way through western Europe; the return journey passes through Europe around mid-April and early May. The breeding population in the region occurs in Scotland, where there are approximately 400-500 pairs. At migration, numbers in the region may exceed 3800, but are quite variable.

Observation Tips

The call can often alert observers to this bird's presence before an actual visual, although it can be confused with the call of a Curlew. Also looks very similar to the Curlew when in flight. During April and September, migrant birds are present on estuaries and mudflats throughout the region. Birds breed on the Sheltand Isles in spring, so a visit during the season may provide an opportunity to see and listen to breeding birds.

Voice

Has a seven note whistling call that gets lower in pitch between the first and last part: 'pe, pe, pe, pe, pe, pe, pe'. Utters a low gurgling call when on breeding grounds.
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