Black-tailed Godwit

Limosa limosa



This is a big wader, though smaller than Curlew, with long black legs, very long, ever-so-slightly upward curved bill, and a long neck. When flying, it shows a wide, white wing-bar, and its white tail has a black band at the end. The sexes differ in summer plumage; the male has a chestnut-orange face, neck and breast, a white belly with dark bars, and a mottled greyish back. The bill has an orange base. In summer, the female is quite similar to male, but she is duller than him, particularly in the red components of the plumage. During winter, both adults become a pale grey-brown on top with a paler belly; the base of the bill is pinkish. Juveniles resemble winter adults but the neck and breast is flushed reddish, and it is spotted black, particularly on the pale-edged feathers on the back.


Breeding takes place in wet grassland, marshes and bogs close to lakes. Muddy estuaries and coastal grassland are the preferred habitats at other times; main populations are on the north-west, south and south-east coasts of England, the Wash and in Northern Ireland.


Usually feeds in deeper water, and is most often seen in smaller groups, but larger flocks congregate in winter. During spring, it has an aerial courtship display that involves soaring then spinning downwards in a quick succession; this is performed over its breeding territory.


Diet includes insects, particularly the adults and larvae of beetles and flies. Also eats worms and small snails.


The region has a few dozen breeding birds. Nesting takes place in early April; female and male both incubate 4 eggs for 22-24 days. Young are able to feed themselves and both adults tend to them; they can fly after about 25-30 days, which signals their independence.


Approximately 66 pairs nest in the UK. More than 44 000 birds spend winter in the UK and 14 000 in Ireland; the biggest numbers are seen in August and September.

Observation Tips

Population of the region is highest outside of breeding season, and majority of estuaries in southern England and southern Ireland play host to this species; Ouse and Nene are particularly strong locations. The species may appear similar to the Bar-tailed Godwit; the upper part of the leg is proportionately longer in the Black-tailed Godwit, so this may help with identification.


Has a far-carrying 'kwe-we-we', usually uttered in flight.
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