An impressive, proud looking wader with particularly fine summer plumage which migrates south from its northern breeding grounds from July to October, returning for the summer from late February through April.
The black-tailed godwit is mainly found in Europe and parts of Russia and is one of Europe’s larger wading birds identified by its long neck, particularly long legs and long, straight, fine tipped bill. The adult female is larger and heavier than the male with a longer bill. Summer plumage of adult birds is a striking rufous to copper red colour on the chest, head and neck with the adult male showing a brighter and wider area of colour. The flanks have black bars and the upper wings are black with a broad white wingbar and black tail. The rump is white as are the upper tail coverts giving the appearance of a wide white stripe across the top of the upper tail. The underwing area is predominantly pale grey to white. In winter plumage the upperparts and breast area are a brownish grey and the wings similar to the breeding colour and patternation. Whilst the bill is tipped black and is an orange pink colour during the summer, in winter it is mainly pink without a dark tip. The legs remain a dark grey to black throughout the year. Juvenile birds are similar to the adult winter plumage although slightly darker across the upper parts with a buff shade to the chest.
Close up of a Black-Tailed Godwit
Although out of the breeding season generally quiet, in flight it has a call similar to ‘viu–viu– viu’, or a noisier repetitive three syllable, ‘du-wid-oo, du-wid-oo, du-wid-oo’.
Black-Tailed Godwit call
Susanne Kuijpers, XC655532. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/655532.
Black-Tailed Godwit in flight
Using their long bills as probes, black-tailed godwits eat a variety of insects and insect larvae, molluscs, spawn and tadpoles, seeds, berries and rice; the latter being a staple when overwintering in sub-Saharan Africa.
A pair of Black-Tailed Godwits
The breeding range of this species of godwit extends from Iceland, the Shetlands and isolated areas within Scandinavia, through northwest continental Europe into west and central Russia, northern Kazakhstan, eastern Siberia and Mongolia to the Kamchatka Peninsula. The birds migrate south for the winter to southern UK, sub-Saharan West Africa and eastwards across Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan and south to Ethiopia, DRC, Kenya and Zambia. Russian based breeders travel south to Iran, Pakistan, India, Myanmar and the coasts of Indonesia and Australasia.
Black-Tailed Godwit chick
There are three recognised subspecies of the black-tailed godwit, the Limosa, the Islandica and the Melanuroides, all of which are monotypic. Apart from slight variations in size, melanuroides being the smallest with limosa being the largest and islandica somewhere in between; the main difference in the sub-species is their geographical locations. These can simply be broken down to Limosa limosa limosa (European) breeding in Europe and west Russia, migrating south to southern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and India. Limosa limosa islandica (Icelandic) breeding mainly in Iceland, the Shetlands, Faroe Islands and other north Atlantic archipelagos overwintering on the south coast of the United Kingdom and Southwest Europe. Finally, Limosa limosa melanuroides (Asian) which breeds across Siberia and Kamchatka into northern China and Mongolia overwintering on the Indian sub-continent, Myanmar, and the coastal regions of Indochina, Taiwan, Indonesia and Australasia.
A pair of Black-Tailed Godwits mating
Also often referred to as a shorebird these waders favour habitats such as bogs, marshes, damp meadows, swamps, reservoirs, muddy estuaries and inland freshwater lakes. Whilst easily recognisable as one of the larger godwits they can still be mistaken for the Bar-tailed Godwit which is similar in size and winter plumage. The broad white wingbars, black tail and long trailing legs during flight however, aid positive identification.
The nest and eggs of a Black-Tailed Godwit
Black-tailed godwits are, in general monogamous. Nests are constructed on the ground from a shallow scrape, normally surrounded by thick vegetation which is often used as camouflage. One brood of 3 – 6 light olive green eggs, is laid annually between May to July and incubated by both parents for an average of three weeks. Fledging occurs from twenty five to thirty days later.
Average life expectancy is between ten to fifteen years.
Family:Sandpipers, snipes and phalaropes
40cm to 44cm
70cm to 82cm
280g to 340g
The Eurasian woodcock spends days roosting in dense, damp woodland undergrowth, and evenings and nights foraging in open fields as well as woods for worms and beetles.
The UKs breeding population of Wood Sandpipers are limited to an area of swampy marshland in the Highlands of northern Scotland, although they are far more commonly sighted in passage during their spring and autumn migrations as they make brief stopovers in southern and eastern England.
A long-legged wader, closely related to the curlew, the Eurasian whimbrel, has small breeding populations established on the Scottish islands of Shetland and Orkney. Migrating whimbrels may be spotted along Britain’s coastlines as they undertake long-distance migration flights between Arctic tundra breeding grounds and wintering territories in Africa.
The Ruddy Turnstone is an attractive shorebird, frequently seen flipping stones in search of small creatures sheltering beneath. These long-distance migrants visit temperate and tropical coastlines across the globe but return to the Arctic each year to nest.
One of the smallest wading bird species to visit British shores, the Temminck’s stint is now classed as a ‘former breeder’ in the UK, with breeding pairs no longer regularly observed. Passage migrants may still be seen, particularly on the eastern coast in May.
Spotted redshanks have a distinctive black spotted summer plumage that UK residents are unlikely to see in birds on British shores, as the species is only a rare winter visitor or spotted in migration passage. Several hundred spotted redshanks make brief stopovers on British coastal wetlands each year, en-route to and from breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle.
The Snipe is a common but shy wader seen throughout the United Kingdom. These cryptic birds make a living by probing marshy ground for invertebrates in the mud below.
Sanderlings run tirelessly along sandy beaches, rushing down to feed as the waves recede and sprinting back, seemingly hoping to keep their feet dry. Their comical antics and non-descript looks belie an impressive avian that makes remarkable migrations between Arctic nesting grounds and overwintering grounds as distant as the southern tips of South America and South Africa.
A rare breeding wading bird in the UK, ruffs are among the most intriguing bird species on Earth, due to the diversity not just between males and females, but also between the three distinctly different types of males that occur.
Named for its red-orange legs, the Redshank is a common and noisy wader of the United Kingdom. These wary birds are present throughout the year, although they are most numerous in the winter non-breeding season.
Unlike many wading bird species, in red-necked phalaropes the traditional roles are reversed. The female is larger, brighter and leaves parental care of the young to the drabber, smaller male. Also, unusual for waders, red-necked phalaropes spend up to 9 months at sea once breeding in the upper northern hemisphere is complete.
A hardy wading bird that thrives in the bleak Arctic tundra landscapes of northeastern Canada, Greenland and Iceland, purple sandpipers arrive on wintering grounds along the northeastern coast of the United States and the UK each autumn, to forage for molluscs and crustaceans on rocky shores and coastal headlands.
Pectoral Sandpipers are mid-sized waders that breed on wet tundra landscapes across the northernmost extremes of North America and the Siberian Arctic. Their epic annual migration return trips of up to 30,000 km are one of the most lengthy of any bird species, similar to those undertaken by the Arctic tern.
One of the world’s smallest wading birds, little stints cover enormous distances on their annual migrations between breeding grounds in the Arctic Circle and winter territories in southern Africa and South Asia. A handful of individual birds spend winter in the UK, and records of vagrant birds reaching North America are occasionally reported.
Red knots, known simply as ‘knots’ in the UK are medium-sized shorebirds that undertake impressive annual migrations of up to 30,000 km (18,000 mi) each year between Arctic breeding grounds and southern coastal wintering habitats.
Highly camouflaged and elusive, the jack snipe is a small wading bird that spends winters on mudflats and freshwater wetlands across Britain. Smaller and less common than the UK’s other native snipe, the common snipe, jack snipes are harder to spot due to their tendency to crouch low and remain hidden among reeds.
The grey phalarope’s winter and summer plumage are so distinctly different that the species is known by an entirely different name in the US. In the UK, the bird’s name reflects its post-breeding plumage, which is dominated by light grey and white. However, in the US, it is known as the red phalarope, after the more vibrant orange-red plumage seen during the breeding season.
A medium wading bird, named after its brightly coloured legs, the greenshank breeds in northern Scotland, as well as further to the east across Scandinavia and Russia. In winter, an influx of greenshanks descends upon wetlands and marshes and along the coast of south-west England, Wales, Ireland and north-east Scotland. Tens of thousands of birds migrate significantly further afield, reaching the coasts of Australia, Indonesia and South Africa.
Green sandpipers are stocky shorebirds similar to the common sandpiper. They spend winters at inland freshwater wetlands in southern Europe and northern and central Africa after raising their young in swampy forests and wet woodland landscapes across northern Europe.
The Dunlin is a small wading bird from the sandpiper family Scolopacidae. Dunlins breed across North America and northern Europe, and Asia and are one of the most widely distributed wading birds, with ten subspecies.
Identified as being from a group of birds known as Waders, within North America they are generally referred to as Shorebirds. This monotypic species, a long distance migrant, is considered to have an Amber Conservation Status otherwise known as Near Threatened.
The largest European wading bird, the Eurasian curlew is easy to identify with its elongated bow-shaped bill and spindly legs. In winter groups of curlews known as ‘curfews’ forage together in coastal wetlands, and up to 66,000 pairs breed in the UK and are resident all year round.
Belonging to a group of birds generally called waders or shorebirds, the common sandpiper prefers freshwater habitats as opposed to saltwater locations.
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