Bird of the Week: Black Tailed Godwit

By Jamie Wyver
photographs by RSPB Images
Published 13 May 2019, 15:00 BST
Black-tailed Godwit (limosa limosa) has a long beak it uses for probing into water and soft ...
Black-tailed Godwit (limosa limosa) has a long beak it uses for probing into water and soft mud to find food.
Photograph by Gordon Langsbury, RSPB Images

This is an elegant, long-legged wading bird with a long beak it uses for probing into water and soft mud to find food, like insects, worms and snails. In summer they have bright orangey-brown coloured chests and bellies, which turn greyish brown in winter.

We have two types (known as ‘subspecies’) of black-tailed godwit in the UK. The most common birds are the icelandica subspecies, which arrive in large numbers from Iceland during the winter. Then there’s the limosa subspecies, which nest here in small numbers. The limosa birds are in real trouble: around 40 pairs nested here last year and the places they need to raise their chicks are threatened by flooding and predators.

A wading godwits in summer plumage.
Photograph by Chris Gomersall, RSPB Images

A pioneering scheme called Project Godwit began in 2016, aiming to reverse this decline. It is a partnership between two conservation organisations, the RSPB and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), bringing together a group of experts to save this special bird. 

There are several different aspects to Project Godwit’s work. They look after the birds’ nesting grounds, carefully checking how the birds are faring; manage the land to reduce the flooding risk and to reduce the effects of predation; and fit coloured rings and trackers to the birds to find out where they go in winter. They also raise godwit chicks by hand before releasing them into the wild to boost the number of young godwits.

The project will run for five years, with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, the HSBC 150th Anniversary fund, Natural England and the Heritage Lottery Fund, through the Back from the Brink Programme. 

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