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Black-tailed Godwit

Scientific name: Limosa limosa
Western European subspecies: Limosa limosa limosa
IUCN designation: Near Threatened

Image of Black-tailed Godwit in a field

The elegant and graceful Black-tailed Godwit is generally classified as a large wader species, growing to around 40 cm (1.3 ft) in height and having a wingspan of 70 cm (2.3 ft). The Black-tailed Godwit is identified by its long dark legs and its long straight bill. A key characteristic of its breeding plumage is its bright copper head and neck1. The rest of its summer plumage can be described as scaly or strongly mottled and is dark grey, brown, white, and black. Its winter plumage is predominantly greyish-brown. Females are generally duller and have whiter underparts. In addition to plumage, the bill changes seasonally. Retaining the dark bill tip, the base will change from yellow-orange in summer to light pink in winter2.

One can easily distinguish the Black-tailed Godwit in flight from similar-looking waders, such as the Bar-tailed Godwit. In addition to its eponymous black tail markings, the Black-tailed Godwit has a defined white wing-bar, framed in black, slightly anterior to the trailing edge3.

The AMASS project is focusing on the nominate subspecies, Limosa limosa limosa, the Western European population of Black-tailed Godwits. This subspecies follows a migration route beginning at its breeding grounds in the meadows of the Netherlands, to its stopover sites in the marshes of Iberia, to its wintering grounds in the coastal lagoons of Sub-Saharan Africa4.

Presently, the biggest threat to Black-tailed Godwits is changing agricultural practices. An estimated 50% of the world’s original wetlands are lost and have been converted to agricultural, urban, and industrial areas. Fewer wetland habitats lead to a loss of nesting habitat for the Black-tailed Godwit. In the Netherlands, agricultural intensification reduces cover for the species, leading to significant predation and mortality of chicks and eggs5. The switch to monoculture and silage monoculture has led to reduced amounts of food (e.g. insects) and accordingly starvation6.

Other threats that affect Black-tailed Godwits on migration include pollution, urban expansion, and again agricultural intensification in stopover areas7.

To learn more, visit our Black-tailed Godwit StoryMap or the links below!

  1. The Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) – Black-tailed Godwit
  2. Nature Spot – Black-tailed Godwit
  3. BirdWatch Ireland – Black-tailed Godwit
  4. Critical Site Network – Limosa limosa
  5. Kentie et al. 2016 – Estimating the size of the Dutch breeding population of Continental Black-tailed Godwits from 2007–2015 using resighting data from spring staging sites
  6. Kentie et al. 2013 – Intensified agricultural use of grasslands reduces growth and survival of precocial shorebird chicks
  7. IUCN Red List – Black-tailed Godwit

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