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Conservation status: Red

Black-tailed godwits are large wading birds. In summer, they have bright orangey-brown chests and bellies, but in winter they’re more greyish-brown. Their most distinctive features are their long beaks and legs, and the black and white stripes on their wings. Female black-tailed godwits are bigger and heavier than the males, with a noticeably longer beak (which helps the sexes to avoid competing for food with each other). They’re very similar to bar-tailed godwits, which breed in the Arctic. Black-taileds have longer legs, and bar-taileds don’t have striped wings. As the names suggest, the tail patterns are different, too.

Illustrations

Overview

Latin name

Limosa limosa

Family

Sandpipers and allies (Scolopacidae)

Where to see them

Estuaries and coastal lagoons are the best places to look for black-tailed godwits at almost any time of year, though they also visit wetland sites inland. We also have a small, vulnerable breeding population, on a select few wet meadows and marshes; they migrate to west Africa for winter. Birds from Iceland spend winter in the UK.

When to see them

It’s easiest to see black-tailed godwits from late summer through winter.

What they eat

Insects, worms and snails, but also some plants, beetles, grasshoppers and other small insects during the breeding season.

Population

EuropeUK breeding*UK wintering*UK passage*
99-140,000 pairs54-57 pairs of the limosa 'Eurasian' subspecies, and 7-9 pairs of the islandica subspecies44,000 birds from the Icelandic population12,400 birds

Distribution

Key

In the UK
Breeds mainly in East Anglia and also Shetland; winters mainly along south and east coasts of England
In Europe
West and central Europe, and Iceland
Worldwide
Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia

Audio

Patrik Åberg, Xeno-canto

Similar birds

Find out more