You are here

Black-tailed Godwit

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

One can see black-tailed godwit (limosa limosa) throughout the year in Dorset and one could be forgiven for thinking they are an internationally common species but sadly that is not the case. The prime sites around the coast of Britain are vitally important for them, especially in winter, and a high proportion of the Icelandic race over winter in southern England and in Ireland. These sites are important too for the European race that tend to stop over in early autumn but then go on further south into southern Europe and Africa. 

There are two godwit species here during the winter, the black-tailed (this one) and the bar-tailed. The black-tailed is by far the most numerous but they are not easy to tell apart on the ground, the black-tailed having a longer neck and longer legs than its cousin. In flight it is easier as the black tail of the black-tailed is much more visible, so too the white flashes on the wings. Apart from telling the two godwits apart they should not really be confused with other waders, that long straight beak being unique, the curlew and whimbrel have beaks that curve downwards.

Whilst records show that the black-tailed godwit can be seen in every week of the year this is not a breeding species in Dorset but a small number do breed further north in England. The ones that overwinter are, presumably youngsters not ready to breed but, even so, they do exhibit their lovely red and brown summer plumage. This species stopped breeding in England way back in Victorian times but started again in 1952 on a RSPB reserve in east Anglia but after early success numbers breeding in England are now in decline again, as they are across Europe, due mainly to habitat loss.

Strangely perhaps, the weekly reports show far fewer numbers of sightings in winter than during the rest of the year with records from mid-December through until the end of March barely reaching five a week and yet the rest of the year seems to engender levels in excess of ten reports a week. I suspect that this is primarily due to the tendency to tweet more interesting sightings and black-tailed godwits are probably considered as 'part of the furniture' in winter. It is a known fact however that numbers in August and September are greatly enhanced by migratory birds stopping over to feed before moving on southwards.

Feeding mainly on mudflats at low tide and moving to saltmarsh at high tide black-tailed godwit are most often seen in Poole harbour, Christchurch harbour, Lodmoor (in Weymouth) and on the Fleet where conditions suit them and the distribution map shows this clustering in suitable habitat very well. 

To see a wonderful spectacle of hundreds of black-tailed godwit in flight or just to watch them feeding head to RSPB Arne in autumn and walk out to the hide and viewing screen on Coombe Heath when the tide is out.


Can be seen all year round but is more common in winter.

Common Name Black-tailed Godwit
Scientific Name Limosa limosa
Species Group Birds Sandpipers
Status Common
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

A tall wader with a long straight bill, usually in a large flock

Identification Notes
  • Poole Harbour is one of the main overwintering locations for this species but it can also be seen in Christchurch harbour, on the Fleet and of a couple of other places
  • Can be seen sometimes in flocks of hundreds feeding at low tide and making a wonderful display should they take off
  • In early spring or early autumn some birds may display their smart summer plumage which is predominately a chestnut brown
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Sandpipers