Become a member

Help us give nature a home from £3 a month.

Print page


The two godwit species that occur in the UK - black-tailed and bar-tailed - can be quite tricky to identify. Here are our top tips to help you tell one from the other.

Though their feathers are constantly changing, birds' body shapes stay the same. Instead of concentrating on what colour a bird is, it's also good to look at its other structural features.

Black-tailed godwit

Black-tailed godwit walking at edge of lagoon

(photographed at RSPB Marshside nature reserve, Lancashire, in April, on its way to Iceland to breed)

Image: Steve Round

  • Black-tailed godwits have longer legs than bar-taileds. Sometimes it's hard to see that when they're wading, though!
  • While both godwits have really long bills, the black-tailed's is often longer and a little bit straighter. However, remember that females have longer bills than males, and young birds also have shorter bills
  • When in orangey breeding plumage, a black-tailed godwit's belly has black stripes - a bar-tailed's is plain. Both male and female black-tailed godwits have an orangey breast and belly in spring.

Bar-tailed godwit

Winter-plumaged bar-tailed godwit on sandy beach

(photographed on the Wirral in October)

Image: Steve Round

  • At all times of year, a bar-tailed godwit has a streaky back. In its grey-brown, non-breeding plumage, a black-tailed godwit has plain back feathers
  • If you see a godwit flying, it's easy to identify it. Black-tailed godwits have a bold black and white stripe on each wing, as well as a black and white tail
  • Bar-tailed godwits' bills are noticeably upcurved
  • In breeding plumage, the only bright orangey-red bar-tailed godwits are males. The females are much paler.