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Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit taking off from shallow water of wetland

Scientific Name: Limosa lapponica

Size: 37 to 45 cm

What does it look like?

The Bar-tailed Godwit is mainly mottled brown above and lighter and more uniform buff below. It has dull white underwings, and a long, slightly upturned bill. As the name suggests, the white tail is barred with brown. This plumage is the non-breeding dress of the Bar-tailed Godwit, and is the main phase seen in Australia. The breeding plumage is darker and more rufous, with females duller than males. Young birds resemble non-breeding birds.

Bar-tailed Godwits are quite large waders, with females being larger than males. Calls include a rapid “tititi” and a sharp “kuwit” in alarm.

The Bar-tailed Godwit is often difficult to distinguish from the similar Black-tailed Godwit, L. limosa. This second species lacks the white underwing and barred rump, and has a longer bill and a white wingbar.

Where is it found?

Bar-tailed Godwits arrive in Australia each year in August from breeding grounds in the northern hemisphere. Tens of thousands of birds land in Australia’s north-west and move around the coast of Australia, rather than across the land. Due to this pattern of movement, birds are more numerous in the north. While most birds leave Australia in April and May, to return to their breeding grounds, some birds (mostly young birds) remain all year round.

They are common in coastal areas around the majority of Australia.

What are its habitats & habits?

Bar-tailed Godwits inhabit estuarine mudflats, beaches and mangroves. They are social birds and are often seen in the company of other waders.

Bar-tailed Godwits feed on molluscs, worms and aquatic insects. Birds wade through the shallows or over exposed mud and probe the long bill rapidly into the bottom to find food. Feeding parties may number up to 30 or more birds, and are made up of non-breeding migrants and young birds that remain all year round.

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, and is either lined with vegetation or is unlined. Both sexes share incubation of the eggs and care for the young.

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Front cover of Australia's Birdwatching Megaspots book showing a picture of an Eastern Spinebill

This species features in my book Australia’s Birdwatching Megaspots

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