The Whimbrel is a worldwide species with four subspecies. The version found in Australia is Numenius phaeopus variegatus. Another subspecies (N p hudsonicus) has been recorded once in the Northern Territory.
Whimbrels breed on tundra breeding ground around the Arctic Circle and arrive in Australia from late August and September. They are common on the west coast north of Carnavon, along the coast of the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales. Also found in suitable areas (mainly extensive tidal mud/sand flats) in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. Also a regular visitor to islands relatively near Australia (Lord Howe, Norfolk, Cocos-Keeling, Christmas Island). Shoalwater Bay and Broad Sound in Queensland are particularly important to non-breeding Whimbrels and so are the south-east Gulf of Carpentaria and Great Sandy Strait (both in Queensland). There is significant annual variation in numbers at any site. Rarely seen inland.
In April and May they set off to fly north to the breeding grounds, Australian Whimbrels are though to breed in Alaska
Whimbrels are usually found on the intertidal mudflats of sheltered coasts; also in harbours, lagoons, estuaries and river deltas, often with mangroves but also on open, unvegetated flats. Occasionally found on sandy or rocky beaches, on coral or rocky islets,or on intertidal reefs and platforms. Generally forages along the muddy banks of estuaries and in coastal lagoons, either in open, unvegetated areas or among mangroves. They probe for worms or molluscs in mud or sand but also pick food items from the surface including crustaceans (crabs) and insects among rocks, coral and seaweed. They also eat vegetable matter, particularly seeds and fruit.
Unlike most seabirds, Whimbrels regularly roost in mangroves which are flooded at high tide or occasionally in tall coastal trees or on the ground.
They do not need a run to take-off, can turn in tight circles and land with a quick flutter.
Similar Species: Eastern Curlew and Little Curlew. The Eastern Curlew is larger than the Whimbrel with a longer, down-curved bill. The Whimbrel has distinctive brown and white lines on its head which the Eastern Curlew does not have.