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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.

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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.