Family Sandpipers, Snipes, Phalaropes (Scolopacidae)

Least Concern

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)


French: Courlis corlieu German: Regenbrachvogel Spanish: Zarapito trinador
Other common names: Hudsonian Whimbrel (hudsonicus)

Scolopax phæopus


, 1758,



Form hudsonicus recently given species rank by one authority#R on basis of “diagnostic differences in plumage and mean morphometric differences” plus mtDNA divergence of 3.6%#R#R. However, morphometric differences given by others#R, who also proposed to separate hudsonicus at species level, do not suggest clear diagnosability in any feature of hudsonicus, whose vocalizations appear to be very similar to those of Old World populations#R; thus, hudsonicus differs in its all-dark back, rump and uppertail-coverts (3), with perhaps a buffier colour overall (1). If hudsonicus treated as a full species, form rufiventris (not always recognized as valid) would be a subspecies of it. In addition, variegatus suggested as possibly meriting species rank on basis of phenotypic evidence#R; more study required. Seven subspecies recognized.

What do (1) and (2) mean? Learn more about the scoring system.
Subspecies and Distribution
  • N. p. islandicus C. L. Brehm, 1831 – Iceland S to N Scotland, with small numbers in NE Greenland; winters W Africa.
  • N. p. phaeopus (Linnaeus, 1758) – Eurasian Whimbrel – Scandinavia E to R Yenisey; winters from extreme SW Europe and Africa through Middle East to W India, Sri Lanka and Andaman and Nicobar Is.
  • N. p. alboaxillaris Lowe, 1921 – steppes N of Caspian Sea; winters on islands and coasts of W Indian Ocean.
  • N. p. rogachevae Tomkovich, 2008 – C Siberia; wintering grounds uncertain, presumably around Indian Ocean shores.
  • N. p. variegatus (Scopoli, 1786) – NE Siberia from Verkhoyansk Mts to basins of R Kolyma and R Anadyr; winters from E India to Taiwan, and S through Philippines and Indonesia to Australasia.
  • N. p. rufiventris Vigors, 1829 – W, C & N Alaska and NW Canada (W Yukon and NW Mackenzie); winters on coasts from W USA S to South America.
  • N. p. hudsonicus Latham, 1790 – American Whimbrel – W & S shores of Hudson Bay (NE Manitoba and N Ontario), in C Canada; winters on coasts from S USA and Caribbean to S South America.
  • Descriptive notes

    40–46 cm; male 268–550 g, female 315–600 g; wingspan 76–89 cm. Medium-sized curlew (30% smaller than N. arquata) showing blackish-... read more


    Advertising display flight and song of male both rather similar to those of N. arquata,... read more


    Boreal, subarctic and subalpine moorland, birch forest and tundra near treeline, open montane... read more

    Food and feeding

    Inland diet includes insects (beetles and Orthoptera, and cranefly larvae), spiders, millipedes, earthworms, snails and slugs; on arrival... read more


    Lays mid May to late Jun in N Europe; the very poorly known alboaxillaris apparently in May. Monogamous and solitary, in densities... read more


    Migratory. Moves over broad front, in spring with relatively few staging areas, often inland, e.g.... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Global population estimated at c. 1,880,000 birds at start of present century. E Atlantic flyway population placed at 600,000–... read more

    Recommended citation

    Van Gils, J., Wiersma, P. & Kirwan, G.M. (2020). Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 21 February 2020).