Photo: John Puschock/Vireo

Priority Bird

Bar-tailed Godwit

Limosa lapponica

Widespread in summer across northern Europe and Asia, this godwit also crosses the Bering Strait to nest in western Alaska. Big, noisy, and cinnamon-colored, it is conspicuous on its tundra nesting grounds. Bar-tailed Godwits from Alaska spend the winter in the Old World. A few may show up on either coast of North America in migration; such strays, in dull winter plumage, often associate with flocks of other godwits, where they are easily overlooked.
Conservation status Most of population is in Old World. Alaskan breeding numbers seem to be stable.
Family Sandpipers
Habitat Mudflats, shores, tundra. In Alaska, nests on rolling hills of tundra, on slopes with hummocky ground cover and low stunted shrubs, a habitat shared with Whimbrels; adults may feed on coastal lagoons some distance from nesting sites. In migration and winter mainly on tidal mudflats along coast.
Widespread in summer across northern Europe and Asia, this godwit also crosses the Bering Strait to nest in western Alaska. Big, noisy, and cinnamon-colored, it is conspicuous on its tundra nesting grounds. Bar-tailed Godwits from Alaska spend the winter in the Old World. A few may show up on either coast of North America in migration; such strays, in dull winter plumage, often associate with flocks of other godwits, where they are easily overlooked.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult female, breeding
  • juvenile
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult male, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages by probing in mud of exposed flats or in shallow water. Females have longer bills and may feed in deeper water than males.


Eggs

Usually 4. Olive or pale brown, usually with a few brown spots. Incubation begins with laying of last egg; both male and female incubate, and eggs hatch in about 3 weeks. Young: Shortly after hatching, young are led to nearby marshy areas, where they stay until able to fly. Both parents tend young, and young find all their own food. Age at first flight probably about 30 days. One brood per year.


Young

Shortly after hatching, young are led to nearby marshy areas, where they stay until able to fly. Both parents tend young, and young find all their own food. Age at first flight probably about 30 days. One brood per year.

Diet

Includes insects, crustaceans, mollusks. In summer in Alaska, feeds mainly on aquatic insects, also occasionally seeds and berries. On mudflats and shores at other seasons, feeds on crustaceans, mollusks, insects, annelid worms.


Nesting

First breeds at age of two years. Territorial and courtship display of male involves loud calls and aerial acrobatics, deep wingbeats alternating with glides, as he circles high above tundra. Nest site is usually on a raised hummock, surrounded by grass. Nest is a shallow depression, lined with bits of grass, moss, lichens.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Alaskan and Siberian birds winter from southeast Asia south to Australia and New Zealand. Those from Alaska are now known to make a remarkable flight over the ocean, covering more than 6,000 miles in an epic nonstop migration that may take eight days of continuous flying. Strays in the lower 48 States may come from either Asia or Europe.

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Migration

Alaskan and Siberian birds winter from southeast Asia south to Australia and New Zealand. Those from Alaska are now known to make a remarkable flight over the ocean, covering more than 6,000 miles in an epic nonstop migration that may take eight days of continuous flying. Strays in the lower 48 States may come from either Asia or Europe.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud kew-wew and various other notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.