When I lived in Florida I was able to see and photograph two of our largest North American shorebirds during winter which are Whimbrels and Long-billed Curlews. These shorebirds are similar in appearance, feed on the same prey during the winter and are found in similar habitat on their wintering grounds. A comparison of images of Whimbrels and Long-billed Curlews shows the differences.
Whimbrels are smaller than Long-billed Curlews, their legs are shorter and they have a dark crown with a pale median stripe. They also have a shorter bill than Long-billed Curlews.
Long-billed Curlews have more cinnamon tones in their plumage than Whimbrels do and their bellies are a plan buffy color while Whimbrels have a pattern on the upper chest and a creamy underside. Long-billed Curlews have a pale crown. Both species have a dark line from the bill to behind the eye but it is darker in Whimbrels.
Both Whimbrels and Long-billed Curlews have a pinkish base to their lower mandibles but it extends further down the bill in Long-billed Curlews. Female curlews and whimbrels have longer bills than males.
Whimbrels are less common than Long-billed Curlews and although they share the same type of wintering habitats Whimbrels breed further north than Long-billed Curlews and prefer nesting grounds on the tundra.
Long-billed Curlews are grassland and prairie nesting birds and I am lucky to have them breed right here in Utah, their breeding range extends north to the most southern parts of Canada’s western territories.
Whimbrels show up in Utah during migration but they are uncommon compared to the numbers of breeding Long-billed Curlews.
I can’t wait for the first curlews to arrive and I will be keeping an eye out for migrating whimbrels too.
Life is good.
All of the images here were taken in Florida at Fort De Soto County Park and Honeymoon Island State Park in 2008 and 2009.