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The Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), called Småspov in Skåne, is a wader in the large family Scolopacidae. It is one of the most widespread of the curlews, breeding across much of subarctic North America, Asia and Europe as far south as Scotland.
The Whimbrel is a migratory bird wintering on coasts in Africa, southern North America, South America, and South Asia into Australasia. It is also a coastal bird during migration. It is fairly gregarious outside the breeding season.
Range map from www.oiseaux.net - Ornithological Portal Oiseaux.net
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Geographical distribution of Whimbrel - Click HERE for full size map
By Cephas - BirdLife International. 2016. Numenius phaeopus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:
Downloaded on 17 June 2018., CC BY-SA 4.0,
This is a fairly large wader though mid-sized as a member of the curlew genus. The English name is imitative of the bird's call. The genus name Numenius is from Ancient Greek noumenios, a bird mentioned by Hesychius.
It is associated with the curlews because it appears to be derived from neos, "new" and mene "moon", referring to the crescent-shaped bill. The species name phaeopus is the Medieval Latin name for the bird, from Ancient Greek phaios, "dusky" and pous, "foot".
It is 37–47 cm in length, 75–90 cm in wingspan, and 270–493 g in weight. It is mainly greyish brown, with a white back and rump (subspecies N. p. phaeopus and N. p. alboaxillaris only), and a long curved bill (longest in the adult female) with a kink rather than a smooth curve. It is generally wary.
Length: 37 - 40 cm
Wingspan: 75 - 90 cm
Weight: 270 - 493 g
Longevity: 12 Years
• On the side of the head is a dark stripe through the eye, a light supercilium, a dark stripe above that one, and a light central stripe. The three crown stripes are the most conspicous of these if the crown can be seen well.
• The bill is shorter and less evenly curved than in the Eurasian Curlew. The pattern of stripes on the head and especially in the crown is diagnostic at least in the majority of the range. Bill is significantly shorter than in the Long-billed Curlew.
The only similar common species over most of this bird's range are larger curlews. The Whimbrel is smaller, has a shorter, decurved bill and has a central crown stripe and strong supercilia.
There are seven subspecies:
• N. p. islandicus – Brehm, C.L., 1831: found in Iceland and Ireland and Britain
• N. p. phaeopus – (Linnaeus, 1758): nominate, found from Norway to north central Siberia
• N. p. alboaxillaris – Lowe, 1921: found from western Kazakhstan to southwestern Siberia (rare, endangered)
• N. p. rogachevae – Tomkovich, 2008: found in central Siberia
• N. p. variegatus – (Scopoli, 1786): found in northeastern Siberia
• N. p. rufiventris – Vigors, 1829: found in Alaska and northwestern Canada
• N. p. hudsonicus – Latham, 1790: (Hudsonian curlew) found in Hudson Bay area to northeastern Canada
This species feeds by probing soft mud for small invertebrates and by picking small crabs and similar prey off the surface. Before migration, berries become an important part of their diet. It has also been observed taking insects, specifically blue tiger butterflies.
Egg of Whimbrel - MHNT
By Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The nest is a bare scrape on tundra or Arctic moorland. Three to five eggs are laid. Adults are very defensive of nesting area and will even attack humans who come too close.
Near the end of the 19th century, hunting on their migration routes took a heavy toll on this bird's numbers; the population has since recovered.
In the Ireland and Britain, it breeds in Scotland, particularly around Shetland, Orkney, the Outer Hebrides as well as the mainland at Sutherland and Caithness.
The Whimbrel is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.