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An occasional visitor seen primarily during migration in spring and autumn but it also over winters in Dorset


Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Whimbrel: the turning point

Post date: Saturday, 11 October, 2014 - 00:00

In amongst all the curlew around our shorelines in the winter period it is worth looking out for its close 'look-a-like', the whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus). They are primarily seen on passage during migration time but they can turn up at any time during the winter depending on the weather elsewhere. Poole Harbour is a favoured place for these birds, along with Christchurch Harbour and the Fleet.

The problem with whimbrel is that they can be really difficult to tell from a curlew and sometimes it helps to see both together. I wonder how many of us have dismissed a whimbrel as 'just another curlew'? The key really is the bill; long and down turned like a curlew yes; but nowhere near as long. The bill also seems to turn downwards at a point two-thirds along whereas the curlew's bill is a more gentle, continuous curve.

The whimbrel is also a less bulky bird, more compact perhaps? The markings on the head differ too but unless you have a really good view that can be difficult to tell from a distance.


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Sites List Distribution Map Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Whimbrel
Scientific Name Numenius phaeopus
Status Restricted
Interest Level
Species Family Sandpipers
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
Preferred Environment
  • Mudflats
  • Rocky cliffs and shores
Look for A curlew-like bird slightly smaller and with a distinct bend in the bill
Additional Identification Notes
  • Seen only on migration in early spring and in autumn
  • Easily mistaken as a curlew but the whimbrel is a little smaller and the bill is shorter with a distinct bend half way down
  • Not only seen feeding on mudflats but can also be seen on rock cliffs and other coastal habitats