Male, 39 cm., bill 85 mm., 300 g., female, 41 cm., bill 105 mm., 350 g.,
nondescript long billed wader, breeding plumage red, bill slightly
upturned, legs and feet black.
Where to find them— Found on estuaries throughout New Zealand.
The Bar-tailed Godwit is one of the largest wading birds on the East
Asian-Australasian Flyway and is readily distinguished by its long,
slightly upcurved bill, browny, rather than grey, non-breeding
plumage, and variable barring on its lower back and rump. In flight it
has only a small pale wingbar, in contrast to the bold wingbar of
Black-tailed Godwits. The most similar species is the Asian
Dowitcher, which is smaller, leggier, has a shorter 'rear end' so it
shows long leg projection during flight, is thicker- and straighter-
billed and has a whiter underwing.
The sexes differ substantially in size, with females being much larger
and longer-billed. Before northward migration, males moult into a
colourful breeding plumage, while females moult into a much lighter
Godwits eat predominantly marine polychaete worms, using their
long bills to probe deep into muddy or soft sandy sediments to
extract buried prey. They also eat small bivalves whole, and crabs
that they may dismember before swallowing. Because females have
much longer bills than males, they often feed in slightly different
habitats, males using firmer substrates where they do more surface
foraging, females feeding in soft mud, plunging face-deep to extract
prey from their burrows.
Godwits are not the easiest bird to study, as they often swallow their
prey before removing their bill from the sediment.