Whimbrels and Long-billed Curlews

Whimbrel in winter habitatWhimbrel in winter habitat – Nikon D200, handheld, f7.1, 1/320, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

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 Curlew in winter habitatLong-billed Curlew in winter habitat – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1500, ISO 320, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

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.

Whimbrel on the Gulf CoastWhimbrel on the Gulf Coast – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

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 Curlew and a Fiddler CrabLong-billed Curlew and a Fiddler Crab – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

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.


  1. Humming Bird Lover February 27, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    Hi! I remember seeing them and many shore birds when I visited You in 2012! Thank you, thank you for sharing all the critters & birds on the Island. These photo’s reminded me of the special time spent with you than! Have a great day

  2. Julie G. February 27, 2015 at 10:30 am

    I have yet to see a Whimbrel when vacationing in Florida, even though I have searched for them. My fingers are crossed that I will come across one this year. Such pretty birds … so beautifully photographed! Wonderful, informative post!

  3. Scott Simmons February 27, 2015 at 9:00 am

    I’m quite partial to that first Whimbrel photo. Nice shots!

  4. Larry Muench February 27, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Beautiful shots! I especially like the last 2 poses. Won’t be long till they’re here again.

    • Mia McPherson February 27, 2015 at 8:35 am

      Thank you Larry, it won’t be long and we will hear the curlews on Antelope Island. I can barely wait!

  5. Patty Chadwick February 27, 2015 at 7:55 am

    I ‘ve never even heard of a Whimbrel before….when we lived in Florida, I probably thought they were Curlews!
    I learn so much from you , Ron, and Jerry…

    • Mia McPherson February 27, 2015 at 8:35 am

      Thanks Patty, they do look so much alike that they could be confused.

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