Our Beautiful World

Godwits, Limosa

Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa
Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica

Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa, Belgium
Photo: Hans Hillewaert

The godwits are a group of large, long-billed, long-legged and strongly migratory waders of the bird genus Limosa.
Their long, bills allow them to probe deeply in the sand for aquatic worms and molluscs. They frequent tidal shorelines,
breeding in northern climates in summer and migrating south in winter. In their winter range, they flock together where
food is plentiful. A female Bar-tailed Godwit holds the record for the longest non-stop flight for a land bird.

They can be distinguished from the curlews by their straight or slightly upturned bills, and from the dowitchers by their
longer legs. The winter plumages are fairly drab, but three species have reddish underparts when breeding. The females
are appreciably larger than the males.

Although not common tablefare today, they were once a popular British dish. Sir Thomas Browne writing in the
seventeenth century noted that godwits "were accounted the daintiest dish in England."

The name Godwit originates in Old English with god meaning good, and wit coming from wihte, meaning creature.

Genus Limosa

English Norsk Latin
Black-tailed Godwit Svarthalespove Limosa limosa
Hudsonian Godwit Svartvingespove Limosa haemastica
Bar-tailed Godwit Lappspove Limosa lapponica
Marbled Godwit Kanelspove Limosa fedoa

Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa

Displaying Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa
Photo:Berend Jan Stijf.

The Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa, is a large, long-legged, long-billed shorebird first described by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758. It is a member of the Limosa genus, the godwits. There are three subspecies, all with orange head, neck and chest
in breeding plumage and dull grey-brown winter coloration, and distinctive black and white wingbar at all times.

Its breeding range stretches from Iceland through Europe and areas of central Asia. Black-tailed Godwits spend winter in
areas as diverse as the Indian Subcontinent, Australia, western Europe and west Africa. The species breeds in fens, lake
edges, damp meadows, moorlands and bogs and uses estuaries, swamps and floods in winter; it is more likely to be found
inland and on freshwater than the similar Bar-tailed Godwit. The world population is estimated to be 634,000 to 805,000
birds and is classified as Near Threatened.

The Black-tailed Godwit is a large wader with long bill,7.5 to 12 cm, and long neck and legs. During the breeding season,
the bill has a yellowish or orange-pink base and dark tip; the base is pink in winter. The legs are dark grey, brown or black. The sexes are similar, but in breeding plumage, they can be separated by the male's brighter, more extensive orange breast,
neck and head. In winter, adult Black-tailed Godwits have a uniform brown-grey breast and upperparts (in contrast to the
Bar-tailed Godwit's streaked back). Juveniles have a pale orange wash to the neck and breast.

Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa, India
Photo: J.M.Garg

In flight, its bold black and white wingbar and white rump can be seen readily. When on the ground it can be difficult to
separate from the similar Bar-tailed Godwit, but the Black-tailed Godwit's longer, straighter bill and longer legs are
diagnostic. Black-tailed Godwits are similar in body size and shape to Bar-taileds, but stand taller.

It measures 42 cm from bill to tail with a wingspan of 70–82 cm. Males weigh around 280 g and females 340 g.
The female is around 5 % larger than the male, with a bill 12-15% longer.

They mainly eat invertebrates, but also aquatic plants in winter and on migration. In the breeding season, prey includes include
beetles, flies, grasshoppers, dragonflies, mayflies, caterpillars, annelid worms and molluscs. Occasionally, fish eggs,
frogspawn and tadpoles are eaten. In water, the most common feeding method is to probe vigorously, up to 36 times per
minute, and often with the head completed submerged. On land, Black-tailed Godwits probe into soft ground and also pick
prey items from the surface
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black-tailed_Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica

Photo: Andreas Trepte, www.photo-natur.de

The Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica, is a large wader in the family Scolopacidae, which breeds on Arctic coasts and
tundra mainly in the Old World, and winters on coasts in temperate and tropical regions of the Old World. It makes the
longest known non-stop flight of any bird and also the longest journey without pausing to feed by any animal, 11,680 km
along a route from Alaska to New Zealand. (See below)*

The Bar-tailed Godwit is a relatively short-legged species of godwit. The bill-to-tail length is 37–41 cm, with a wingspan of
70–80 cm. Males average smaller than females but with much overlap; males weigh 190–400 g, while females weigh
260–630 g; there is also some regional variation in size (among the subspecies). The adult has blue-grey legs and a very long
dark bill with a slight upward curve and pink at the tip. The neck, breast and belly are unbroken brick red in breeding
plumage, off white in winter. The back is mottled grey.

It is distinguished from the Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa, by its barred, rather than wholly black, tail and a lack of white wing bars. The most similar species is the Asiatic Dowitcher.

A flock of Bar-tailed Godwit landing, Limosa lapponica, Orielton Lagoon, Tasmania, Australia
Photo: JJ Harrison http://www.noodlesnacks.com

There are three subspecies, listed from west to east:
Limosa lapponica lapponica. Breeds from northern Scandinavia east to the Taymyr Peninsula; winters western coasts of
     Europe and Africa from the British Isles and the Netherlands south to South Africa, and also around the Persian Gulf.
     Smallest subspecies, males up to 360 g, females to 450 g.
Limosa lapponica menzbieri. Breeds northeastern Asia from the Taymyr Peninsula east to the Kolyma River delta; winters      southeastern Asia and Australia. Intermediate between the other two subspecies.
Limosa lapponica baueri. Breeds far northeastern Asia east of the Kolyma River, and western Alaska; winters in Australia      and New Zealand. Largest subspecies.

It forages by probing in mudflats or marshes. It may find insects by sight in short vegetation. It eats mainly insects and
crustaceans, but also parts of aquatic plants.

The Bar-tailed Godwit is a non-breeding migrant in Australia. Breeding take place each year in Scandinavia, northern Asia,
and Alaska. The nest is a shallow cup in moss sometimes lined with vegetation. Both sexes share incubation of the eggs and
care for the young.

Migration of the Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Map: United States Geological Survey,

Migration of the Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica.Bar-tailed Godwits have recently (March 2007) been shown to
undertake the longest non-stop flight of any bird. Using satellite tracking, birds in New Zealand were tagged and tracked
all the way to the Yellow Sea in China. According to Dr. Clive Minton (Australasian Wader Studies Group) "The distance
between these two locations is 9,575 km, but the actual track flown by the bird was 11,026 km. This is the longest known
non-stop flight of any bird. The flight took approximately nine days. At least three other Bar-tailed Godwits also appear to
have reached the Yellow Sea after non-stop flights from New Zealand."

One specific female of the flock, nicknamed "E7", flew onward from China to Alaska and stayed there for the breeding season. Then on 29 August 2007 she departed on a non-stop flight from the Avinof Peninsula in western Alaska to the Piako River near Thames New Zealand, setting a new known flight record of 11,680 kilometres. Stray birds from Europe and Asia
occasionally appear on both North American coasts.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar-tailed_Godwit


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