Thursday, 8 November 2012

Birds in Focus - Godwits

There are two species of Godwit to be found in the UK:
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. 

Black-tailed Godwits (RSPB)
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. However, Black-tailed Godwits have longer legs, and Bar-tailed Godwits don’t have striped wings. As the names suggest, the tail patterns are different, too.

Black-tailed Godwit (Martyn Jones)
They are found on 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. Marshside RSPB at Southport is a good place to get closeup views. 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.

It’s easiest to see Black-tailed Godwits from late summer through winter. They eat insects, worms and snails, but also some plants, beetles, grasshoppers and other small insects during the breeding season.

Bar-tailed Godwits (RSPB)
Bar-tailed Godwits are a long-billed, long-legged wading bird which visit UK shores for the winter. Most usually they are seen in their grey-brown 'spangled' winter plumage, whereas birds in spring may show their full rich chestnut breeding plumage. In flight they show no white on the wing unlike the Black-tailed Godwit.

In winter they look very similar in colour and size to the Curlew, except for the bill shape which is straight with a slight upcurve. They eat worms, snails and insects.

In flight a white patch shows stretching from the rump up the back, narrowing to a point. They breed in the Arctic of Scandinavia and Siberia and hundreds of thousands of them pass through the UK, on their way further south, or stop off here for the winter.

The largest numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits occur on large estuaries - the Wash, Thames, Ribble, Dee, Humber, Solway and Forth estuaries, and Lough Foyle for example. They prefer sandy beaches in coastal locations compared to the Black-tailed Godwits which are usually found on inland waters. The highest numbers are seen in Britain between November and February, with numbers starting to build in July and August and falling off in March and April. Small numbers of non-breeding birds can be seen throughout the summer.

This video was taken a Marshside RSPB in June 2012 and shows Black-tailed Godwits (some in the remains of summer plumage) feeding in front of the Sandgrounders Hide at about 1 minute 15 secs.  It also features a Ringed Plover, a noisy colony of breeding Black-headed Gulls and some Avocets.

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