Whimbrel

Numenius phaeopus
Range Map

We find whimbrels in the Americas and in Eurasia. The American birds are more buff or tan colored than their grayer cousins in Eurasia. In the Western Hemisphere these birds nest in Alaska, North Western Canada and on the Western edges of Hudson Bay, and they spend winters on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North and South America.

Most shorebirds have a well-defined alternate (breeding) plumage and a basic (non-breeding) plumage. Birds in the curlew genus (Numenius), like the Whimbrel, have only subtle differences between seasons.

In southern California, where I’ve met most of these birds, they are sometimes confused with their cousins, the Long-Billed Curlew. A closer examination will reveal the Wimbrel is slightly smaller, and the line through the eye is darker and better defined. There are also two dark strips over the crown of the Whimbrel that the Long-Billed Curlew lacks.

Today’s science recognises four subspecies of Whimbrel:

  • N. p. phaeopus breeds from Iceland to Siberia, and spend winters along coasts of Africa and Indian Ocean.
  • N. p. alboaxillaris breeds in Russia near the Caspian Sea, and spends winter on the coasts of the Indian Ocean.
  • N. p. variegatus breeds northeastern Siberia, and spends winters in Melanesia, Micronesia, and Australia.
  • N. p. hudsonicus breeds from Alaska to northern Canada, and spends winters along the coasts of North and South America.

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