Bar-tailed Godwit

Scientific name: Limosa lapponica


Photo by Laurie Campbell

Bar-tailed godwits are waders, sized between a curlew and a redshank.  They have a long, tapering bill that is slightly upturned.  The rump is white and the tail brown and barred.  There is a white ‘V’ between the wings and a short pale stripe above the eye.  The legs are long, with less showing above the joint than on black-tailed godwits.  Females are larger than males.  In Spring males have a brick-red face, neck and underparts and grey-brown back.  They lose these colours after the moult but have a boldly streaked back.

Habitat and Distribution

Scottish bar-tailed godwits prefer sandy or muddy shores or estuaries but are also found on rocky shores.  They breed mainly in the sub-Arctic on tundra, peat mosses and swamps near the coast.  They have a fairly wide distribution, being found along coastal areas of large parts of Africa, Australasia, Europe, Russia and India.

Global distribution of the bar-tailed godwit (IUCN 2011)


Bar-tailed godwits feed mainly on worms and shellfish found in coastal sand, in particular ragworms and lugworms.    They also eat shrimps and small marine snails.  When on their breeding grounds they eat a variety of insect life, including beetles, flies and moth caterpillars, as well as worms, snails and occasionally berries and seeds.


Bar-tailed godwits breed in the Arctic and migrate from Africa, Australia and Asia   Most Scottish birds depart in March and April.  They build  a nest on the ground, in which the female lays four eggs.  Both parents share the 21-22 day incubation period, although the male carries out the majority.  After nesting they return south via Europe, some stopping off to moult before continuing to Africa, and some choosing to spend the winter here.

Status and Threats

Bar-tailed godwits are classified by the IUCN as ‘Least Concern’.  However, some coastal wetlands are under threat from development and the birds are also sensitive to disturbance.

They are listed on Annex 1 of the Birds Directive.  Within the UK they are included on the Amber List of UK birds of conservation concern.