Bar-tailed Godwit

Limosa lapponica

A large wading bird, notorious for the boldness of breeding individuals.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Length:

37cm to 39cm

Wingspan:

70cm to 80cm

Weight:

230g to 450g

What does a Bar-tailed Godwit look like?

The bar-tailed godwit is a large shorebird that has long legs and a narrow upturned bill. During the breeding season, males have dark brown upperparts, chestnut lower parts and some white on the lower belly. Many of their feathers will have notches of brown and buff. The underwing is white and the rump a barred brown. Legs are a greenish-grey colour and the bill is dark at the tip, getting pinker towards the base. Females are usually larger than males and have both longer bills and duller plumage.

Out of breeding season, both sexes have grey-brown upperparts and darker brown feathers, giving a stripy appearance. The breast is more grey in colour with brown streaks.

Juveniles are similar to adults in their non-breeding plumage but will have fine streaks on the front part of their necks and a light buff colouring.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Did you know?

The migration of the bar-tailed godwit is the longest non-stop flight of any bird. It also holds the record for the longest journey without stopping to feed. This is because they have this impressive ability to essentially shrink their guts, replacing the weight with muscle and fat.

What does a Bar-tailed Godwit sound like?

Bar-tailed godwits are mostly silent birds but can become quite vocal at their breeding grounds. The calls are mostly repetitive mewing and sharp. The contact call is a sharp "kwee-kee-wee-kee" with display calls a stacco "kuwek-kuwek-kuwek-kuwek".

Bar-tailed Godwit alarm call

Simon Elliott, XC599425. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/599425.

What does a Bar-tailed Godwit eat?

Bar-tailed godwits have a diet that mainly consists of worms, shrimps, shellfish and marine snails. During the breeding season, they will also eat berries, insects and spiders.

They will forage during both the day and night and use their long bills to probe and pick up things. If foraging in shallow water, they will often submerge their heads.

Bar-tailed godwit in flight

Bar-tailed godwit in flight

Where can I see Bar-tailed Godwits?

Bar-tailed godwits can be seen most of the year, usually in large estuaries located around the UK. These birds breed in Scandinavia's Arctic, with hundreds of thousands stopping off here for the winter. The highest numbers of visiting birds arrive from November and start to depart in February, with smaller numbers of non-breeding birds in the summer. The number of bar-tailed godwits will start to build again between July and August.

They are highly sociable birds but are also very wary. During the day they will often gather in large flocks but throughout the day they will spread into smaller groups or even become solo.

Signs and Spotting tips

Bar-tailed godwits are often confused with the other godwit species that occurs within the UK, namely the black-tailed godwit. Due to the constant change to both the birds' plumage, positive identification becomes difficult and close examination of the physical size and shape of each bird provides a far more accurate result.

In general, the bar-tailed has a shorter bill and legs than the black-tailed whose own bill is straight as opposed to being upcurved. Bear in mind it can be difficult to tell the length of a bird's legs whilst they are wading.

The broad white wing bars on both the upperwing and underwing areas of the black-tailed godwit, obvious in flight, easily identifies it from the plain winged bar-tailed godwit.

Bar-tailed godwit searching for food

Bar-tailed godwit searching for food

How does a Bar-tailed Godwit breed?

Both parents will generally build the nest out of moss and dead leaves. Sometimes nests can be as simple as a scrape or depression in suitable vegetation. Females will lay clutches of 2-5 eggs, with both birds performing incubation duties - which lasts around 20 days.

Chicks are precocial (fully-developed), which means they will follow their parents to search for their own food. Young birds will often fledge and become more independent after around 4 weeks.

Bar-tailed godwits will reach reproductive maturity when they are around 2 years old.

Juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit

Juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit

How long do Bar-tailed Godwits live for?

The average lifespan for a bar-tailed godwit is around 5 years, but some birds can live for well over 30 years.

Country distribution of a Bar-tailed Godwit

Similar birds to a Bar-tailed Godwit

Other birds in the Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes family