Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Numenius phaeopus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Species:N. phaeopus
Common Names:Whimbrel, Kendi Pisau Raut, Burong Gajah

Systematics & Taxonomy

Two races are recorded in Singapore:

N. p. variegatus differs from N. p. phaeopus in having the lower back, rump, axillaries and underwing coverts more heavily streaked or barred with brown (Medway & Wells, 1976).


The Whimbrel has a long, decurved bill. Its plumage is generally brown. The crown is broadly striped with two broad longitudinal bands of brown separated by an irregular, narrow whitish stripe. It has a distinct white rump and lower back. The underpart is white. The lower throat and breast are washed with brown. The flanks and under tail coverts have brown crossbars.

There is no great difference between the adult in winter and summer plumages and the immature bird is also very similar

Size: 4046 cm

Soft parts: Iris brown. Bill brown, the basal half of the lower mandible yellowish or fleshy. Legs bluish grey. Feet grey

Read more about the Charadriiformes order.
Read more about the Scolopacidae family.


The Whimbrel breeds in the subarctic and actic, from Iceland east across Eurasia and Siberia, winters in Myanmar, Indochina,Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Sumatra, Rhio Archipelago, Borneo, North Natuna Island, Java, Bali, Kangean Island, Christmas Island, east to New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand.

The nominate race breeds in North Europe and West Asia, migrates down south into Africa, India.


In Singapore. the Whimbrel has been recorded at Changi, Khatib Bongsu, Lorong Halus, Mandai Mangrove, Marina East, Pasir Ris Park, Pulau Semakau, Pulau Tekong, Pulau Ubin, Punggol, Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, Sungei Seletar, Tanah Merah.

General Biology

The Whimbrel is a common winter visitor and passage migrant to Singapore. Researchers from the College of William and Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology and The Nature Conservancy in the US have observed the record-setting migration of a female Whimbrel from its feeding grounds on the Delmarva Peninsula in the east coast of the US to breeding grounds on the McKenzie River near the Alaska-Canada border. Fitted with state-of-the-art satellite tracking device, it was found that the bird travelled more than 5,000 km in about 145 hours, a new distance record for the species - see this LINK

It is often heard before being seen. Its whistling call as it passes overhead is distinctive. It feeds alone or in small flocks. It roosts in mangrove trees during high tides.

It regularly bathe, followed by preening to keep the feathers in top form - video clips of such activities can be viewed HERE.


It forages by probing its long bill into the mud to catch mangrove crabs, molluscs and polychaete worms. When there is an abundance of fiddler crabs scurring on the mud, it simply picks one up, drops it or flings it some distance away to stun it as well as to detach its single large pincer before swallowing the crab with its legs intact.

Life Cycle

Being a winter visitor and passage migrant, it does not breed in Singapore.


Small numbers are intermittently seen throughout the summer months of May, June and July.

Earliest date recorded: 4 July; Latest date recorded: 24 June

Formal records of Numenius phaeopus collected from Singapore:

Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research: 5 (3 ♀♀, 1 ♂, 1 unsexed)


Medway, Lord & D. R.Wells. 1976. The Birds of the Malay Peninsula. Volume V. H. F. & G. Witherby Ltd. 448 pp.

Wang, L.K. & Hails, C.J. 2007. An annotated checklist of birds of Singapore. Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Supplement 15: 1–179, Singapore.

Wang, L. K. 2011. Curlews. Pp. 284. In: Ng, P. K. L., R. T. Corlett & H. T. W. Tan (editors). Singapore Biodiversity. An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development. Editions Didier Millet, Singapore. 552 pp.

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