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Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) | by Brian Carruthers-Dublin-Eire
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Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

Limosa limosa


Guilbneach earrdhubh


Red Godwit, Small Curlew


spanwidth min.: 63 cm

spanwidth max.: 74 cm

size min.: 37 cm

size max.: 42 cm


incubation min.: 22 days

incubation max.: 24 days

fledging min.: 0 days

fledging max.: 0 days

broods 1

eggs min.: 3

eggs max.: 4


Status: Winter visitor from Iceland. Numbers remain high throughout the winter, especially September.


Conservation Concern: Amber-listed in Ireland as the majority of Black-tailed Godwits winter at less than ten sites. The European population is considered to be Vulnerable, due to past and present declines in key populations, such as the Netherlands and Russia.


Identification: Very similar in size and shape to Bar-tailed Godwit, but the slightly longer, straighter bill, neck and legs give it a more elegant appearance. Winter plumage is a similar greyish brown to Bar-tailed, but generally plainer, with less dark-centred feathers, especially on the wings. In flight, the similarities between the godwits disappears - Black-tailed shows a striking contrasty upperwing - mostly black with bold white wingbars, a square white rump and a black tail (Bar-tailed has quite uniform brown wings and a long white rump which extends well up the back forming a white wedge). Summer plumaged or moulting birds often occur, showing varying amounts of rich orange. Typically wades in shallow water on tidal mudflats - favours the inner, more silty parts of estuaries and inlets. Can occur in large flocks of several hundred birds.


Call: Described as loud 'wicka' repeated three times.


Diet: Visual and tactile feeders - feed on a range of invertebrates, including bivalves, polychaete worms and shore crabs. Prefer to feed on muddier estuaries, but also feed in brackish pools and on nearby rough pasture. While on pasture, they feed on the larvae of crane fly (Tipulidae) and on the amphipod Corophium volutator. They have also been recorded feeding on grain in stubble fields on the Wexford Slobs.


Breeding: Breed in lowland wet grassland and marshes. Nine breeding sites were identified in Ireland during the last breeding atlas. More recently, birds were present during the breeding season between 1996 and 1999 inclusive, though breeding was not proven.


Wintering: Winters in a variety of habitats, both inland (particularly grassland and river deltas) and coastal (particularly estuaries), though seldom seen along non-estuarine coast.


Where to see: Little Brosna Callows in County Offaly, Shannon & Fergus Estuary in County Clare, Cork Harbour in County Cork, Dundalk Bay in County Louth and Ballymacoda in County Cork support highest numbers (1,000-3,000 birds).



Physical characteristics


Close in body size and wing length to Bar-tailed Godwit but taller with longer legs and straighter, longer bill. Large rather graceful wader, with long bill on relatively small head, long neck, and long legs. Ground-colour of fore-body mainly dull pink-chestnut in summer, paler grey-brown in winter; white ‚stern‘ more obvious than in Bar-tailed Godwit. Flight pattern unique in waders of west Palearctic: wings have bold white wing-bar above and broad white lining below, and large white area of rump and tail-base contrasts with dark lower back and wide black terminal tail-band.




Breeds in upper middle latitudes, both oceanic and continental, mainly in lowland temperate and boreal zones, avoiding frozen, arid, mountainous or rocky, wooded, cultivated, or built-up areas, and parts of wetlands with tall dense vegetation, or submerged except under very shallow water. Originally, doubtless confined to habitat types like those still used in Iceland: vast marshy hummocky moorlands often with extensive growth of creeping dwarf birch, or grass marshes and damp meadows, boggy grassy lake shores, or damp grassy depressions in steppe. In northern Scotland, damp moorland and blanket bog still occupied, and in Netherlands locally on damp heathland. Over past 2 millennia, however, widespread deforestation and pasturage have created extensive new open habitats, often under farming regimes. Some of these now form main breeding areas. Reclaimed areas subsequently reverting to poorly drained pastures, or to damp heaths free of scrub, or other waterlogged marginal farmland, or borders of reedy wetland are of primary importance, but other grasslands managed as meadows, especially when grazed in spring, cut for hay in late summer, and flooded in winter. Young led away after hatching, and once fledged may shift to distinct habitat at some distance, including sewage farms, lake margins, tidal marshes, and mudflats. These and sheltered coastal inlets favoured throughout non-breeding season.


Other details


Limosa limosa is a widespread but patchily distributed breeder in eastern and parts of north-west Europe, which holds more than half of its global breeding population. Its European breeding population is relatively large (>99,000 pairs), but underwent a large decline between 1970-1990. Although the species was stable or increased in several countries—notably Iceland—during 1990-2000, key populations in the Netherlands and Russia continued to decline, and the species underwent a large decline (>30%) overall. Consequently, it is evaluated as Vulnerable.

This wader inhabits the boreal, temperate and steppe regions of Eurasia. The Icelandic population amounts to about 5000-15000 breeding pairs. It is wintering in the British Isles and seems to be slightly increasing. The continental population of Europe is wintering in West Africa, mainly Senegal and Mali. The birds of the Netherlands and Denmark migrate through the Iberian Peninsula and Morocco. Those of Central Europe migrate through Tunisia and Algeria. A small population is passing through the Balkan Peninsula in order to reach East Africa. Despite the fact that the species has extended its breeding area and increased in some regions, it is overall rather declining. This is largely due to agricultural intensification in Europe and problems in the wintering quarters




Chiefly invertebrates; in winter and on migration, also plant material. Food located by touch and sight. Most frequently uses prolonged and vigorous probing, often with head completely immersed. Typically, whilst slowly walking forward holds head down with vertical or almost vertical bill making small exploratory probes, then suddenly probes deeply and pulls out prey, usually swallowing it immediately.




Limosa limosa has a large discontinuous breeding range extending from Iceland to the Russian far east, with wintering populations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Australasia. It occurs as three subspecies, L. l. islandica, L. l. limosa, and L. l. melanuroides. L. l. islandica breeds in Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, Shetland (United Kingdom) and the Lofoten Islands (Norway). L. l. limosa breeds across a wide area extending from Western and Central Europe to central Asia and Asiatic Russia as far east as the river Yenisey. L. l. melanuroides breeds in disjunct populations in Mongolia, northern China, Siberia (Russia) and the Russian far east. The species migrates across a broad front and has wintering grounds extending from the Republic of Ireland to Australia, encompassing the Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of the Middle East, India, Indochina, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. The global population has recently been estimated at 634,000-805,000 individuals. Population trends vary in different parts of its range. There have been large and well-documented declines in mainland Europe and in the species's Australian wintering grounds, which hold c.50% of the wintering population of L. l. melanuroides. However, in Central Asia the breeding population appears to be stable or fluctuating, and in Iceland numbers are increasing (although this subpopulation is only a small part of the global population). A recent analysis based on published literature, survey data and expert opinions from throughout the species's range suggests that, overall, the global population may have declined at a rate approaching 30% over the last 15 years. [conservation status from]




Egg-laying from mid-April. Iceland: laying begins late May. One brood. Nest built on ground in short or fairly short vegetation. It can be more or less exposed or just concealed by plants. Nest is a shallow scrape, diameter 12-15 cm, depth 2-6 cm, lined thick mat of grass stems, leaves, and other available vegetation. Clutch size 3-4, rarely 5, incubated for 22-24 days. Young fledge after 25-30 days.




Migratory. West Siberian and European race, nominate limosa, winters in part in southern Europe and south-west Asia, but mainly in Africa north of Equator; Icelandic race islandica winters in western Europe. Essentially a freshwater and estuarine species, with broad-front (often overland) migrations characterized by long flights between relatively few staging sites and wintering areas. Large numbers of non-breeding birds summer south of their breeding ranges. Departures from breeding grounds begin late June, with major exodus in July, and principal passage through Europe mid-July to September. Return movement begins February. In north-west Europe, numbers increase during February and March, and breeding sites reoccupied mid-March to mid-April; April to early May in north-east.


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Taken on August 9, 2015