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


Habitat in Breeding Range

Main nesting habitat in Alaska and Churchill, MB, are areas where open sedge meadows intermix with forest. Around Cook Inlet, AK, breeds in large open areas of muskeg with a mixture of wet bog, small shallow pools, small spruce islands, and drier upland areas, surrounded by mostly coniferous forest (Williamson and Smith 1964, CSE). Upland areas dominated by mosses, lichens, and sedges, interspersed with higher drier areas of grasses and low shrubs such as sweet gale (Myrica gale) and dwarf Arctic birch (Betula nana). Nests found in sweet-gale bogs, surrounded by spruce (Picea sp.) forest, and with many spruce islands and small ponds. Ranging from very wet with minimal sedge cover to drier tundra.

Similar habitat used in w. Alaska, where typically found in areas where spruce or spruce-deciduous forest is interspersed with open bogs or wet meadows; in this region, also occasionally found far from treeline in dwarf shrub meadows. On Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, much apparently suitable habitat is not used, suggesting either that habitat is far from saturated or that our understanding of habitat needs is incomplete (McCaffery and Harwood 2000).

At Churchill, nests on hummocks in string-hummock and wet sedge-tundra meadows near the treeline. Dominant plants include ericaceous shrubs, dwarf birch (Betula glandulosa), willows (Salix spp.), sedges (especially Tufted Bulrush [Scirpus caespitosus]), and grasses. Nests generally placed on hummocks in drier areas, usually in the vicinity of shrubs or dwarf birch. Willow swamp, with an intermingling of scattered bushes, wetter spots, and drier islands and hummocks, also used for nesting and as cover for recently hatched chicks (Hagar 1966). In breeding areas, scattered trees, most often Larch (Larix laricina), used as perches; abundant small ponds and, especially, wet meadows provide feeding sites.

In Alaska and Manitoba, nests varied in distance from water from immediately adjacent to a pond to >100 m away, but distance varies greatly throughout the season depending on rainfall (L. Tibbitts pers. comm., CSE, JK, NS). At Churchill, brood-rearing areas characterized by tall sedges (40 cm), and patches of water and mud (JK). Frequently nests in same areas as several other shorebirds, including Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus), Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus), Stilt Sandpiper (Calidris himantopus), Least Sandpiper (C. minutilla), Dunlin (C. alpina), and American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis dominica). On Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, sympatric with Bar-tailed Godwit (McCaffery and Harwood 2000). When nesting within a few kilometers of the coast, will fly daily to nearby mudflats to feed in both vegetated salt marsh and on tidal mudflats (Gill and Tibbitts 1999).

Habitat in Nonbreeding Range

Habitat in Overwintering Range

Variety of inland and coastal wetland habitats: estuaries, mudflats, salt marsh, sandy shores, shell banks, lakes, fresh-water marshes, brackish swamps, flooded rice fields, sewage lagoons, salt ponds, and occasionally uplands. Roost sites include salt marsh, sand spits, small islands, tidal pools behind mangrove, floating vegetation, and grassy fields (Higgins and Davies 1996).

During winter, most found on tidal mudflats of large bays in s. South America. At Bahía San Sebastián, Argentina, most occur on extensive channeled mudflats protected by long shingle spit; most other sites containing substantial wintering flocks have similar habitat. At Punta Rasa, Argentina, occurred primarily on mudflats at low tide, moving to higher ground at high tide; marsh habitats and marine beaches used by smaller numbers, predominantly at high tide (Blanco 1998). In s. Brazil, Uruguay, and coastal Buenos Aires province, Argentina, Hudsonian Godwits occur in salt marsh, tidal mudflats, fresh-water and brackish lagoons, swamps, fresh-water marshes, slow-flowing streams with muddy banks, flooded fields, and occasionally on upland grasslands and inland (Myers and Myers 1979, Lara Resende 1988, Morrison and Ross 1989a, Blanco et al. 1995). In Chiloé region, Chile, most found in coastal inlets, some steep-sided but often with extensive marshy deltas and associated mudflats (Morrison and Ross 1989a) (Andres et al. 2009). During southbound migration in central Brazil, recently found to be regular on the downriver side of large, mud-banked islands, as southbound migration coincides with the Amazonian dry season (S. V. Wilson pers. comm., B. Whitney pers. comm.). Reported from elevations as high as 3,700 m, Lake Uru-uru, Bolivia (Pearson 1975a, B. Hennessey pers. comm.).

During spring migration, occurs regularly in rice fields of sw. Louisiana and Texas (Lowery 1974, Skagen et al. 1998b). Farther north, in Great Plains, found in various wetland habitats including marshes, shallow ponds, mudflats, wet fields, and sewage lagoons. In s. Yukon, feeds along beaches and mudflats of larger lakes and occasionally rivers; in north, on sand spits and small river deltas along the Beaufort Sea (Sinclair et al. 2003).

Few quantitative analyses. At the Bahía de Asunción, Paraguay, most birds (80%; n = 79) found in shallow water rather than on either wet (20%) or dry (0%) land (Hayes and Fox 1991). During fall, at Quill Lakes, SK, more abundant than expected by chance based on habitat availability at a marsh site, and less abundant than expected, along muddy or sandy shores of 2 lakes (Alexander and Gratto-Trevor 1997).

Hudsonian Godwit Breeding adult female Hudsonian Godwit, Twin Lakes Road, Churchill, Manitoba, 22 June.
Breeding adult female Hudsonian Godwit, Twin Lakes Road, Churchill, Manitoba, 22 June.

Adult female with very long bill, and pale, barred underparts., Jun 23, 2012; photographer Tom Johnson

Hudsonian Godwit Adult female Hudsonian Godwit incubating, Twin Lakes Road, Churchill, MB, 2 July.
Adult female Hudsonian Godwit incubating, Twin Lakes Road, Churchill, MB, 2 July.

Godwits are very difficult to detect on their nests, owing largely to their cryptic plumage to keep them hidden, and their reluctance to flush from their nests. As is evident in this picture, godwits on their nests are very difficult to locate., Jul 02, 2010; photographer Shawn Billerman

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