Black-tailed Godwit

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Common Name: Black-tailed Godwit
Scientific Name: Limosa limosa

Size: 15¾ - 17¼ inches (40-44 cm)

Habitat: Worldwide; it 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. Found in cattle pastures, hayfields, lowland wet grasslands, grassy marshland, raised bogs and moorland, lake margins and damp grassy depressions in steppe. Subspecies islandica shows a distinct preference for large patches of dwarf-birch bog and marsh, particularly with abundant sedge-pools. Extensive farmland habitats are of critical importance for breeding Western European populations. After the young have fledged, adults and fledgelings often move to secondary habitat which more closely resembles that of their non-breeding range, including wet damp areas around fish-ponds and sewage farms, tidal marshes, mud flats and salt-water lagoons. Non-breeding Subspecies limosa tends to winter in freshwater habitats, including swampy lake shores, pools, flooded grassland and irrigated rice fields. Subspecies islandica and melanuroides, however, often winter in brackish habitats such as sheltered estuaries and lagoons with large intertidal mudflats, sandy beaches, salt-marshes and salt-flats

Status: Near Threatened. Global population: 630,000-805,000 with a decreasing trend. Loss of nesting habitat owing to wetland drainage and agricultural intensification, and conversely, abandonment, are the most significant threats. Detrimental activities include the conversion of wet meadows to arable land, increased fertilization and drainage of grassland, artificial flooding of nesting habitats, earlier and more frequent cutting, spring burning and overgrowing by scrub. On intensively grazed pastures, trampling is a major cause of nest loss. Habitat fragmentation may cause particular problems for this species, which nests in dispersed colonies and sub-colonies as protection against predators and may be unlikely to breed successfully in small areas of habitat. Hunting is another significant threat. In the European Union (EU), only France continues to legally hunt this species, although a small amount of illegal hunting occurs elsewhere. Annual bag statistics indicate that c. 1,000 Black-tailed Godwits are shot each year, down from >100,000 per year in 1980-1990. Outside the EU, for example on the African wintering grounds, hunting is known to occur but its scale and impact is unknown. Water pollution is probably an issue in parts of the species’ range, and drought in the West African wintering quarters may have had negative impacts on the mainland European population. The Icelandic population is potentially at risk from the policy of the Icelandic government to encourage afforestion of the lowland habitats where they breed. Juvenile birds which select good wintering sites also select good breeding sites14, therefore maintaining high quality wintering sites is crucial to raising productivity on breeding grounds and slowing the rate of decline. There is a marked decrease in the density of breeding birds near to roads, particularly those with heavy traffic. The occurrence of natal philopatry means that a decrease in local recruitment could prove catastrophic for individual breeding sites.

An EU Management Plan for 2007-2009 has been adopted, and an AEWA Action Plan is in preparation. Intensive management of breeding habitat has been carried out in some Western European countries, and a number of agri-environment schemes focus on this species, although results have been mixed. It occurs in a number of protected areas.

Diet: Adult and larval insects (especially beetles), annelid and polychaete worms, mollusks, ragworms, crustaceans, spiders, fish eggs, and the spawn and tadpoles of frogs. On the breeding grounds grasshoppers and other orthopterans are often prevalent in the diet. Particularly during the winter and on migration it will also take plant material including berries, seeds and rice grains

Nesting: The nest is placed on the ground in short, often luxurious vegetation. It consists of a shallow scrape 12-15cm in diameter, lined with a thick mat of stem grass, leaves and other available vegetation. Breeding birds show a high degree of nest site fidelity1 and some degree of natal philopatry. It breeds from April to mid-June in loose, semi-colonial groups of up to 3 pairs. Non-breeding birds remain in flocks, often near to the breeding colonies.

Cool Facts: This species is highly gregarious and migrates on a broad front, making long-distance flights, often overland between relatively few staging and wintering areas. As soon as the young fledge, breeding birds begin to congregate in loose flocks of up to 500 individuals. The species migrates southwards between late-June and October. During the autumn migration it may roost in flocks of tens of thousands in favored sites, and many adults pause in North Morocco in July to molt. The return passage occurs between February and April, and birds arrive at the breeding grounds in groups of 5-30 individuals. Many one-year-old birds remain in the wintering range during the summer. During the winter and migration the species usually forages gregariously.

Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume 3: Small Waders

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