Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica Scientific name definitions

Brad M. Walker, Nathan R. Senner, Chris S. Elphick, and Joanna Klima
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated October 21, 2011

Diet and Foraging


Main Foods Taken

Mainly invertebrates and plant material. On migration, may rely heavily on plant tubers at inland sites (Alexander et al. 1996).

Microhabitat For Foraging

Few quantitative data. On breeding grounds, feeds mainly in wet parts of sedge marsh and along vegetated edges of shallow tundra pools; pairs nesting near coast and premigratory flocks feed on exposed mud on tidal flats (Hagar 1966, CSE). In Churchill area, often feeds in same places as Stilt Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes). During fall migration at Quill Lakes, SK, typically seen feeding in flooded areas; slightly >50% of time spent in water shallower than length of the birds' tarsi, the rest of the time in deeper water; not seen feeding in areas that were dry or merely covered with a film of water (Alexander and Gratto-Trevor 1997). In spring, at Cheyenne Bottoms, KS, 82% of 244 birds found in open shallow water, 17% at water-mud interface; mean water depth for 235 foraging birds was 5.1 cm ± 3.1 SD; generally avoided vegetation (Helmers 1991). At Lagoa do Peixe, Brazil, higher numbers found in flooded areas at least several centimeters deep than in areas with exposed mud or wet sand; in this study, occasionally used pools in sand dunes for roosting but never fed on the beach (Lara Resende and Leeuwenberg 1987, Lara Resende 1988).

Food Capture And Consumption

Obtains most food by probing with at least one-quarter of bill inserted into mud, but also by pecks in which just the tip enters mud or prey is plucked from water column, mud surface, or vegetation (Alexander and Gratto-Trevor 1997, JK). Often inserts bill deep into mud and submerges head when feeding in water; may probe rapidly like a dowitcher (Wright 1987). Captured prey items pass along bill rapidly (Wetmore 1926c). Adults guarding small chicks glean insects from vegetation.

On vegetated pond margins, walks slowly in water up to belly, dips whole head in water, in monotonous motion: step-dip, step-dip; may make multiple dips from one place. Feeding birds stop periodically to preen or to look around; also when other shorebirds call. Will wade or swim through deep water. On muddy substrates, tilts whole body forward to probe, often close to base of vegetation or partially submerged rocks if present. Often runs between making pecks on mudflats, suggesting use of visual cues more than when feeding underwater. When feeding on tubers, has a distinctive manner of pushing bill into mud and rotating it to make a small hole by the plant. Often makes several probes in quick succession (Alexander 1994, Alexander et al. 1996).

Presumably locates food by touch while probing, by sight when gleaning. Bill tip reportedly “flexible” (L. C. Sanford in Bent 1927) implying at least 1 rhynchokinetic joint that may help individuals grasp food items buried deep in mud.

Few data on feeding performance, but success rates of 48–71% recorded for 4 birds feeding in Carex marsh at Susitna Flats, AK (L. Tibbitts unpubl.), while success rates of 0-13% (n = 217) were recorded at wintering sites across southern South America (Senner and Senner unpubl.). One bird in Britain ate 40–50 prey items/min (Grieve 1987).


Few data. One study on breeding grounds at Churchill (n = 12 birds; Baker 1977c) found majority of stomach contents to consist of insect larvae (Diptera: Cyclorrapha and Tipulidae) and beetles (Coleoptera: adult and larval Chrysomelidae, Donacia, and adult Dysticidae Hygrotus); >50% of food items were Cyclorrapha larvae, with <10% each of Tipulidae larvae, adult Donacia, larval Donacia, adult Hygrotus, unidentified snails (Gastropoda) and seeds. In that study, Hudsonian Godwits tended to select prey approximately 3–6 mm in length (mean length approx. 5 mm), but took items ranging from 2 to >10 mm in length.

Gizzards of 5 birds collected on breeding grounds at Mackenzie River delta, NWT, contained mostly invertebrates (Diptera: Tabanidae larvae, Trichoptera larvae, Hemiptera adults, Hymenoptera adults) and small snails (1–4 mm). Stable isotope analyses of tissue from these birds also suggested that invertebrates were main food source (Alexander et al. 1996).

During fall migration, tubers of sago pondweed (Potamogeton pectinatus) made up majority of diet at Quill Lakes: 94% of food volume in esophagus and proventriculus (n = 20 birds, 114 food items) and 66% of items in gizzard (n = 17 birds, 402 food items). Analyses of stable isotope ratios suggested that sago pondweed constituted 61–74% of diet at this site. Despite this apparent discrepancy, 95% confidence intervals around this estimate encompassed the estimate based on gut-content analysis. Clearly, plant tubers are a major portion of diet at this staging site; possible that a carbohydrate-rich diet may be especially important for godwits preparing to embark on long migratory flights (Alexander 1994). Other food items in esophagus-proventriculus of these birds included: seeds (2% of volume; found in 3 individuals) and Diptera: Chironomidae larvae (4%; 1). And in gizzard, seeds (mostly Potamogeton and Scirpus spp.; 27% of food items; found in 11 individuals), Eleocharis parvula tubers (1%; 1), Diptera: Chironomidae larvae (2%; 2), Coleoptera larvae: Dytiscidae (<1%; 1), Haliplidae (<1%; 1), Hydrophilidae (<1%, 1), Hemiptera: Corixidae (2%; 2), and Orthoptera: Acrididae (2%; 1). Seeds in diet showed no evidence of digestion, suggesting they may have been eaten to help grind other food (Alexander et al. 1996).

At Samborombón Bay, Argentina, diet primarily nereid worms (Laeonereis acuta and Neanthes succinea); fiddler crabs (Uca uruguayensis) made up 0.6% of food items, but more important in terms of biomass (Ieno 2000). At Punta Loyola, Patagonia, Argentina, bivalve Darina solenoides is eaten (Bala et al. 1998).

Other reports of foods include earthworms (Annelida), insects (horseflies [Tabanidae], mosquitoes [Culicidae]), mollusks (including Macoma balthica), crustaceans (including amphipods), and other small invertebrates (Forbush 1925, Martini et al. 1980, Wright 1987); predominantly polychaete worms on intertidal mudflats of Tierra del Fuego (Piersma et al. 1996c); crowberries (Empetrum nigrum) on breeding grounds in Alaska (B. McCaffery and C. Harwood pers. comm.).

Food Selection and Storage

Little information. Apparently feeds opportunistically. Baker (Baker 1977c) found evidence that individuals select prey on average larger than expected based on size range available; however, prey taken were not the largest available. In Argentina, found to select the largest (40–60 mm) nereid worms (Ieno 2000). Higher incidence of invertebrates in diet during the breeding season than during migration may reflect low availability of tubers on breeding grounds, but also could indicate selection for foods rich in protein and calcium while breeding; high incidence of snails in diet from Mackenzie River delta, in particular, may indicate selection for calcium-rich food (Alexander et al. 1996).

Caching unknown.

Nutrition and Energetics

Little information on Hudsonian Godwit; see Migration: control and physiology, above. Larger congener, Bar-tailed Godwit, prior to migration shows body mass increase of 6.0 g/d (Kersten and Piersma 1987). Daily energy expenditure of 3.5-d-old Hudsonian Godwit chicks raised in captivity can range from 12.1 to 50.3 kJ/d (with mass of chicks, respectively, 25.2 and 32.7 g), and increases to an average of 297 kJ/d in 17-d-olds (K. Krijgsveld pers. comm.; Williams et al. 2007). Net energy intake in adults of the larger Bar-tailed Godwit estimated as 610–886 kJ/d (Kersten and Piersma 1987). Based on field observations, estimated to consume 0.21 mg AFDW (ash-free dry weight)/s, though this estimate may be low (Ieno 2000, E. Ieno pers. comm.). Using allometric relationships, mean metabolic rate of adults estimated at 273 kJ/d (Ieno 2000).

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

No information.

Drinking, Pellet-Casting, and Defecation

Little information. Pellet-casting not reported, but found in many large shorebirds; incidence may depend on diet. Bends legs at tibiotarsal joint in slight squat while defecating.

Hudsonian Godwit Juvenile Hudsonian Godwit, Salinas, CA, 13 September.
Juvenile Hudsonian Godwit, Salinas, CA, 13 September.

, Sep 13, 2007; photographer Brian L. Sullivan

Recommended Citation

Walker, B. M., N. R. Senner, C. S. Elphick, and J. Klima (2020). Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.hudgod.01