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What is a Bar-Tailed Godwit?

J.L. Drede
J.L. Drede

The bar-tailed godwit is a migratory shorebird of the Scolopacidae family. It is also sometimes known as the Pacific godwit and the white-rumped godwit and is primarily known for its exceptionally long migration patterns. The most notable physical characteristic of the bar-tailed godwit is its very large, upturned bill. Its plumage varies by sex. Males tend to have red heads and underparts with darker wings, while females tend to be less colorful, with reddish chestnut coloration limited to their upper breast. When not breeding, the coloration of both sexes is drabber and more grayish-brown.

The bar-tailed godwit is a large compared to other wader birds. Males of the species usually weigh about 0.4 to 0.6 lbs (190 to 300 g), while the larger females usually weigh between 0.5 and 1.4 lbs (250 and 630 g). From bill to tail it is usually about 14.5 to 16 inches (36 to 40 cm), and its wingspan can range from 27.5 to 31.5 inches (70 to 80 cm).

Bar-tailed godwits use lichen to build part of their nests.
Bar-tailed godwits use lichen to build part of their nests.

Nests of the bar-tailed godwit are usually found in small shurbs and bushes and are usually made of grass, moss, and lichen. After eggs have been laid, both the male and female bird will stay with the nest until the eggs hatch, which takes less than a month. The parents will stay with the young after the eggs hatch to protect them until they are fully grown and can fly on their own.

As of 2010, the population of the bar-tailed godwit has declined in recent years. However, the organization does not believe that the decrease in numbers is sufficient enough for alarm. The organizations estimates that the worldwide numbers of the species are more than million.

The bar-tailed godwit is found all over the Old World as well as Australia, New Zealand, and parts of North America, along the Pacific coast. The migratory practices of the bar-tailed godwit are well documented for their distance. In 2007, birds from New Zealand were tracked and shown to have flown all the way to the Yellow Sea in China, for a total flight distance of 6,337 miles (10,200 km). This flight was non-stop and took approximately nine days.

This was thought to be the greatest distance the bar-tailed godwit would travel, but the following year another godwit was tracked flying from Alaska all the way to New Zealand. This non-stop flight covered more than 6,835 miles (11,000 km). This is the longest flight by any animal; no other bird has been known to fly this far. Even humans cannot beat this flight in terms of time in the air.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Bar-tailed Godwit?

The Bar-tailed Godwit is a migratory shorebird known for its extraordinary non-stop flights across the globe. It is easily recognized by its long, slightly upturned bill and the distinctive barring on its tail. These birds breed in the Arctic and migrate to coastal regions in Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, showcasing remarkable endurance and navigational skills.

How far can a Bar-tailed Godwit fly without stopping?

A Bar-tailed Godwit holds the record for the longest non-stop flight of any bird. One individual was recorded flying over 11,000 kilometers (about 6,835 miles) from Alaska to New Zealand without stopping for food or rest, according to satellite tracking data. This feat is a testament to their incredible stamina and efficient flight mechanics.

What does the Bar-tailed Godwit eat?

Bar-tailed Godwits have a diet that primarily consists of invertebrates such as worms, shellfish, and insects. They use their long bills to probe into soft mudflats and sand to extract their prey. During their breeding season in the Arctic, they may also consume seeds and berries to supplement their diet.

How do Bar-tailed Godwits navigate during their migration?

Bar-tailed Godwits utilize a combination of the Earth's magnetic field, the position of the sun and stars, and the topography of the land and coastlines to navigate during their migration. Their internal biological clock helps them time their travel, ensuring they take advantage of favorable weather conditions and food availability.

What are the conservation concerns for Bar-tailed Godwits?

Bar-tailed Godwits face several conservation challenges, including habitat loss due to coastal development and climate change affecting their breeding grounds in the Arctic. They are also at risk from pollution and human disturbances along their migratory routes. Conservation efforts are focused on protecting critical stopover sites and breeding habitats to ensure their survival.

How do Bar-tailed Godwits contribute to their ecosystems?

As long-distance migrators, Bar-tailed Godwits play a crucial role in connecting ecosystems across the globe. They contribute to the control of invertebrate populations in their feeding grounds and serve as prey for predators. Their migratory patterns also help scientists understand ecological changes and the impacts of global environmental shifts.

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    • Bar-tailed godwits use lichen to build part of their nests.
      By: alessandrozocc
      Bar-tailed godwits use lichen to build part of their nests.