Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

Black-tailed Godwit

[order] CHARADRIIFORMES | [family] Scolopacidae | [latin] Limosa limosa | [UK] Black-tailed Godwit | [FR] Barge a queue noire | [DE] Uferschnepfe | [ES] Aguja de Cola Negra | [NL] Grutto


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Limosa limosa EU widespread AF, OR, AU
Limosa limosa islandica Iceland, Faroe and Shetland Is., n Norway sw Europe
Limosa limosa limosa w and c Europe to c Asia Mediterranean, Africa, India
Limosa limosa melanuroides c and e Asia India, se Asia, Australia

Physical charateristics

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.

Listen to the sound of Black-tailed Godwit

[audio: Godwit.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 63 cm wingspan 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.: 24 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 4  


Eurasia : widespread


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.


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.

Feeding habits

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.


Although this species is widespread and has a large global population, its numbers have declined rapidly in parts of its range owing to changes in agricultural practices. Overall, the global population is estimated to be declining at such a rate that the species qualifies as Near Threatened.
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
Black-tailed Godwit status Near Threatened


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.

Distribution map

Black-tailed Godwit distribution range map

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