Australian Bush Birds
Bar-tailed Godwit  -  Limosa lapponica
Bar-tailed godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit on tidal sand flats at Urunga on the New South Wales coast. This bird is beginning to adopt rufous breeding plumage and will soon be leaving to migrate to Alaska to breed.
Bar-tailed godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit with its beak in sand seeking food. The black barring on white background can be seen at the tail; the underside shows first flushes of breeding plumage. Photograph taken in March.
map map The Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica - is a medium sized (40 centimetre), long-beaked bird. Non-breeding adult birds are mottled grey to grey-brown above, shading to white below with mottling and streaking in the breast. Legs long and black. The beak is long, reddish pink in colour but darker towards the tip and very slightly turned up.

Breeding plumage comprises deep rufous or chestnut head, neck and underbody.

Females are larger with a longer bill.

Bar-tailed Godwit - page 2
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Bar-Tailed Godwit head; the right photograph shows the pattern on the crown of the head..
Found on coastal mudflats, sandbars, estuarine shores, salt marshes, sewage ponds. Reported from scattered locations right around the Australian coastline. Locally common when it does occur.

Two subspecies are found in Australia. Subspecies menzbieri spending the non-breeding season along the Western Australian coast as far south as the Esperance area. Birds gather in flocks of as many as 60,000 at the Broome wintering grounds where they rest and feed before flying north to Siberia for breeding; during the northbound migration this subspecies stages through east Asia. Subspecies baueri breeds in Alaska, spending the non-breeding season in New Zealand and eastern Australia and also stops at staging areas in east Asia during the northbound flight. Subspecies ranges overlap in the Yellow Sea. Breeding colours appear on birds while they are in Australia and are seen on northward moving birds between March and April.

A project involving attaching satellite tracking equipment to godwits in Australia (Broome) and in New Zealand is underway to identify the breeding areas and to establish the exact route used by the birds.

The very similar black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) has a straight, dark coloured beak, with a more slender body, unbarred tail and longer legs that trail substantially behind the tail-tip in flight.

Bar-tailed godwit
Bar-tailed Godwits feeding on tidal sand flats at Urunga on the New South Wales coast.
Photographs immediately above and below were taken in November and show Godwits in non-breeding plumage.
Bar-tailed Godwit - page 3
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Bar-Tailed Godwit feeding; the beak allows the bird to probe under the surface mud or sand for food. The barred tail is visible in both photographs.