Bar-tailed Godwit

Limosa lapponica



This is a big, rather portly wader with a long, slightly upturned, tapering bill and long legs. Usually most of the upper leg is not visible, unlike in the case of the Black-tailed Godwit, and another difference is that the Bar-tailed Godwit lacks a white wing-bar; it has a pale 'V' between the wings, its tail is brown and barred and it has a white rump. There's a pale section above the eye. In spring, the male is brick-red on the face, neck and underparts, while his back is mottled brownish-grey; the bill is uniformly dark. The female is bigger, her bill longer, and she is duller than the male in spring. Winter plumage is grey-brown above and on head and neck, underparts are pale, and the bill has a pink base. Juvenile birds are similar to winter adults, but they have a buffish tone to the head, neck and upperparts.


When in the region, is usually found near the coast, either feeding or in high-tide roosts. Prefers sandy or muddy shores, estuaries and sheltered bays. Mostly breeds in the sub-Arctic on peat-mosses, swamps and low tundra close to coast.


Often seen wading in deep water, and when flying, its neck is pulled in. When not in breeding season, it creates big flocks and may perform impressive aerial moves.


Diet includes shellfish, lugworms, ragworms and other worms living in sand. Also eats shrimp and marine snails, and when in breeding territory, eats insects, snails, crustaceans, worms and occasionally seeds and berries.


Breeds in the Arctic, not in Britain and Ireland. Female usually lays 4 eggs and both adults incubate for 21-22 days. Hatchlings are able to feed themselves and gain their independence with the ability to fly.


The species migrates from Arctic territories through Europe between July and October, and most depart Britain and Ireland in March and April. During winter, numbers may reach 41 000 in the UK and more than 16 000 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

This species doesn't present a big challenge to locate; during winter, it is largely present round most of the region's coastline, particularly on estuaries. Birds appear quite different to Black-tailed Godwits when in flight, and if the length of the upper leg and the features of the bill can be seen, separation between the species is possible.


Has a piercing 'kve-wee' call during flight.
Back to Bird Index