Whimbrels are large waders with distinctive long down-curved bills.
allow them to probe deeply into mud for titbits. And possibly gave rise
to one of their Malay names which means "elephant bird"!
Whimbrels eat mostly burrowing crabs. The next major item on the menu
are fish. But they will eat a wide variety of crustaceans, aquatic
invertebrates, insects, worms and molluscs. They also snack on seeds,
berries and leaves, particularly in late summer as insect populations
begin to dwindle.
Whimbrels probe deeply and move as they feed. They may also pick off
food found on the surface. They can take large prey, tearing it to
pieces before eating it. In India, they pull fiddler crabs out of their
burrows, tear off their larger claw before swallowing the titbit. A
muddy food item may be rinsed before it is eaten.
Whimbrels forage on both mud and sandy surfaces, but avoid very soft
mud. They are only found in coastal areas and do not forage inland.
Whimbrels generally feed alone or in small, spread out parties. At
most times of year, they defend some kind of territory. On migration,
they maintain a feeding territory that is guarded against other
Whimbrels. But Whimbrels roost and migrate in large flocks. They prefer
to roost on exposed shoals, tops of mangrove trees or in shallowly
flooded clearings in mangroves which face the open sea.
Breeding (May-August): Whimbrels breed in the subarctic and arctic
from Iceland across Eurasia, Alaska and Canada. They prefer to nest in
boreal or low-arctic moorland and tundra next to the treeline. The
male's courtship includes a high circling song flight comprising a
prolonged bubbling. They don't have different summer and winter plumage.
Whimbrel nests are just a shallow depression on the ground, usually
concealed in low grass or heather. They may also make a nest on top of a
mound of moss or grass that is surrounded at the base with water. The
hollow is lined with soft grasses, mosses and lichens. 2-5, usually 4
eggs are laid; these are bluish green to a light olive green with
lavender and brown markings. Both parents incubate (22-28 days) and
raise the young. As soon as the chicks are dry, they leave the nest and
stay hidden among the surrounding vegetation. Both parents care for the
chicks until they fledge in 35-40 days.
Migration: Those Whimbrels that visit Singapore breed in Northeast
Asia, migrating in winter to India, southern China, Southeast Asia to
the Philippines and the Sundas. They migrate with other shorebirds, and
often act as a sentinel species. Very wary, Whimbrels are often the
first to alert the other birds to danger. Their peak arrival in
Singapore is September-November, although a small number may be found
throughout the year. Probably because many first year birds may remain
in their wintering quarters throughout the summer. During migration, the
Whimbrel roosts in mangroves, feeds on mudflats at the tideline with
other waders. They may also be found inland, both around wetlands as
well as short dry grassland, farmland, golf courses, parks.
Status and threats: Whimbrels are among the most abundant Curlews
because of their extensive breeding range. Adult Whimbrels have few
natural predators, aside from foxes and larger raptors. Few succumb to
predation during migration, probably because they are very vigilant.
Human impact is the biggest threat. Whimbrels are affected by habitat
loss of nesting sites and refuelling staging posts along the migration
route, and pollution of shorelines. In the early 1900s, they were hunted
in the US as they migrated south. The slaughter had reduced populations
there from thousands to a few hundred. Although hunting is less
widespread now, there has been no apparent recovery to pre-hunting
levels. They continue to be hunted in their wintering grounds, such as