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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide

Image of An adult whimbrel.Zoom+ An adult whimbrel. © Glen Tepke (


Numenius phaeopus

Species Group: Bird

Conservation Status

State: Special Concern



The whimbrel is a large (17-18 inches long) shorebird which is gray-brown in color. The upperparts of the bird are darker brown while the neck and belly are pale with dark streaks. It has a long decurved bill and a striped head. The legs are blue-gray in color. Both sexes look alike. When flying in groups, they fly in a straight line. Their call is a series of short rapid ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti whistles on one pitch.

Image of Range of the whimbrel in New Jersey.Zoom+ Range of the whimbrel in New Jersey.


The whimbrel’s summer breeding range is within Alaska and northern Canada. They spend their winters along the shorelines of South America and the Gulf of Mexico. They migrate between their summer and winter ranges along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean. They occur along New Jersey shorelines during their spring and fall migrations.

Breeding habitat for the whimbrel consists of wet open tundra. During the non-breeding season, including migration, they prefer tidal mudflats, marshes, estuaries, beaches, and sandy or rocky shores.


Whimbrels feed on small invertebrates such as insects, worms, small mollusks, and crustaceans. They feed during the daytime often by probing mud with their long bill.


Whimbrels usually migrate northward along the Atlantic coast to their breeding sites between March-May. The breeding season begins in June. The nest is on the ground, often in a slight depression. Four eggs are laid and there is only a single brood each breeding season. Incubation by both parents will last about 28 days. The nestlings are precocial and will leave their nest as soon as their down is dry. Both parents will tend to the young which are capable of flight at about 5-6 weeks after hatching.

Whimbrels migrate in flocks, which are often large and may be comprised of several shorebird species. During migration, they often fly at high altitude.


The whimbrel is listed in New Jersey as a Species of Special Concern (not yet endangered or threatened but possibly on its way) during its non-breeding season. Potential threats to the species include severe weather at their breeding grounds, climate change, loss of prey during migration, or some combination of all of those.

Text written by Michael J. Davenport in 2011.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
    Phylum: Chordata
       Class: Aves
          Order: Charadriiformes
             Family: Scolopacidae
                Genus: Numenius
                   Species: N. phaeopus

Find Related Info: Special concern

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