Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica Scientific name definitions

Brad M. Walker, Nathan R. Senner, Chris S. Elphick, Joanna Klima, and Gabriela Contreras
Version: 1.1 — Published February 9, 2024

Movements and Migration

Dispersal and Site Fidelity

Natal Philopatry and Dispersal

Two of 227 chicks were resighted at their natal site within 2 yr after hatch (Senner et al., unpublished data). In other godwits, banded chicks were occasionally resighted near their banding site (104, 105). In the Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa), the male nests closer to the hatching site than the female (106).

Adult Fidelity to Breeding Site and Dispersal

Few data. Territories are often reoccupied from year to year, and several instances of banded birds returning to their previous breeding sites (including both members of a pair in 3 consecutive years), demonstrate that site fidelity occurs (97, L. Tibbitts, unpublished, J. R. Jehl, Jr., personal communication, JK). In the Black-tailed Godwit, return rates to breeding areas 78% for males, 69% for females (107).

No direct information on dispersal from breeding site. Genetic studies indicate little dispersal among main breeding populations (49).

Fidelity to Overwintering Home Range

Most of the world's population winters at two disjunct sites: with Alaskan breeders on the Pacific coast of South America and Manitoba breeders on the Atlantic coast, suggesting that fidelity to nonbreeding sites is high, but there is little information on movement among wintering sites or fidelity to home range sites. One Churchill bird equipped with a data logger for two years returned to the same non-breeding site (Bahía Blanca; Senner et al., unpublished data).

Migration Overview

The Hudsonian Godwit is a long-distance migrant between boreal breeding grounds and wintering grounds in southern South America. On migration, individuals are found within relatively narrow geographic zones―although occurrence within this zone is sporadic, suggesting that the Hudsonian Godwit may not use traditional stopover sites, but instead makes stops dependent on weather and on-the-ground conditions (108, 109).

As in other Nearctic breeding shorebirds, migration follows an elliptical route in North America, with the northbound route located west of the southbound route (2, 33). Within North America, northbound migration is more diffuse than southbound. In spring, most birds pass through the Great Plains, with major concentrations recorded occasionally at sites such as Cheyenne Bottoms, Kansas; the eastern Rainwater Basin, Nebraska; and Lake Thompson, South Dakota (99; Jorgensen personal communication). In fall, major staging areas are found in western Alaska at Aropuk Lake, in the Quill Lakes and other saline likes of southern Saskatchewan, and at James Bay; these concentrations represent western and eastern breeding populations, respectively (6, 109, B. McCaffery, personal communication).

Most Hudsonian Godwits from both eastern and western staging sites make a non-stop flight over the western Atlantic to South America. Migration within South America is not well known, but preliminary data from individual tracking devices suggest southbound migrants travel through the interior and that northbound migration is more coastal (Senner et al., unpublished data). This suggests that most individuals travel through the continental interior during both the boreal and austral spring periods and along the coast during both fall periods. Tracking devices on migrating birds have also shown that additional staging sites for Alaskan birds occur in the interior of northern South America, particularly from southeast Colombia south to northwest Brazil (Amazonas) (Senner et al., unpublished data).

Small numbers of nonbreeders remain in southern South America during the breeding season (91, 110, 38, 84, 111).

Timing and Routes of Migration

Northbound Migration

Little information is available about Hudsonian Godwit migration through South America. In Argentina, movement during early March was reported from the Buenos Aires area (92); the species is seen at San Antonio Oeste in central Argentina only during northbound migration, perhaps suggesting different migration routes or use of different stopovers during northbound and southbound migrations (84); numbers peak in March in southern Brazil, with most gone by the end of April (38). Numbers peak in the Los Lagos region of Chile in March and nearly all individuals are gone by May (111). Not seen in Paraguay during northbound migration (112). Uncommon from at least mid-April to May along the Pacific coast of Guatemala and southern Mexico north to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and along the Gulf of Mexico coast from southern Veracruz to the Texas-Mexico border; rare elsewhere in Mexico (113).

First arrives in North America in early April, with first individuals often found well inland of the mid-Texas coast (Senner, unpublished data). Moves north, primarily west of the Mississippi River, between 90° and 100° west in the US, and across a wider range once it reaches southern Canada. The largest concentrations are at Cheyenne Bottoms, Kansas; Lake Thompson, South Dakota; Kingsbury County, South Dakota; eastern Rainwater Basin, Nebraska; and Jackson County, Texas (99, 114). Appears to be a bimodal migration, with an early peak in central North America occurring in mid-April and a second, larger peak during May, that likely has to do with the earlier arrival of south-central Alaska breeders (NRS).

Representative dates of occurrence during spring migration: north-central Texas, late March–late May (115); Kansas, early April–late May (116), with 50% of the birds at Cheyenne Bottoms seen during the last two weeks of April (117); western Minnesota, late April–early June (118); eastern South Dakota, late April–late May (119).

Uncommon spring migrant in the southern part of the Prairie Provinces. Regular in small numbers during late April and early May in eastern Alberta. In Manitoba, regular along the Hudson Bay coast, irregular to the south (120). In southern Yukon, small numbers in May, primarily in the Southern Lakes area near Whitehorse; most records between 8 and 13 May and involve 1 or 2 birds, but larger numbers (maximum flock size of 52) reported occasionally (13, 69). Elsewhere in North America, occurs only as a rare spring migrant.

First reaches southern Alaska breeding grounds during last week of April, with nearly all birds on breeding territories at Susitna Flats by the first few days of May (121, 61). Historical records over a 37 year period put this average at May 2. Arrival is delayed somewhat in years of heavy snow or shorefast ice (T. Tobish, unpublished data); earliest arrivals in western Alaska during the first week of May on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and in Kanuti National Wildlife Refuge (62); by mid-May on the Seward Peninsula (63).

Historical first records show an average arrival date in Churchill, Manitoba of May 22 over a period of 24 years (NRS), with spring migration peaking in late May and very early June (72, 73).

Southbound Migration

Prior to migration, the Hudsonian Godwit gathers in low hundreds on tidal flats of the northern Yukon Delta, and the southeastern shore of Kuskokwim Bay (35, McCaffery, personal communication), and in Cook Inlet (61, 97). At Cook Inlet, Alaska, the first males begin to stage in late June, with good numbers well into July; females are later, beginning to arrive by the last week of June and arriving in numbers with the first juveniles during late July–early August (T. Tobish, Senner et al., unpublished data). Latest birds depart the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and Seward Peninsula by late August (63, 62); adults leave the tidal flats of Cook Inlet by late July, juveniles by the end of August (L. Tibbitts, T. Tobish, Senner et al., unpublished data). At Churchill and La Pérouse Bay, Manitoba, adults begin to flock by mid-July and start departing by late July; most juveniles leave by the end of August (latest 7 September; 72, 73).

Relatively few birds are seen away from major staging sites during migration; e.g., very few seen in the Yukon Territory during fall migration, all between late July and early September (69). Key staging sites are in Saskatchewan (peak numbers at Luck Lake, Quill Lakes, Porter Lake, Opuntia Lake, and Catherwood Lake 122, 99, W. Renard and G. Beyersbergen, personal communication), representing western populations, and James Bay, primarily eastern birds. At Porter Lake and Quill Lakes, passage occurs early July–early September, with peak during the first half of August (120, 6). After leaving Saskatchewan, birds take a direct route to the eastern coast of North America and set off for a direct flight to South America over the western Atlantic (Senner et al., unpublished data).

During the second half of July, flocks gather on tidal flats along the western shores of Hudson and James Bays (96, 41, 2, 74, 123, 33). Adults start gathering at the southern end of James Bay in July; the main departure of adults is during second half of August. Juveniles start gathering in early August; most leave in mid-September to mid-October. Total population peaks mid-August.

Other staging sites include the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where several hundred occur in late July–late August (124), and the Bay of Fundy, where tens are seen mid-July to September (125). From James Bay, the Hudsonian Godwitflies over the Maritime Provinces of Canada and New England, south to the Mid-Atlantic, and then out over the western Atlantic; low numbers are seen in these areas, and most individuals fly nonstop from James Bay to South America, a distance of at least 5,000 km (123, 33, NRS).

Typically rare inland in eastern Canada and eastern U.S., with most sightings involving single birds, occasionally flocks of up to 10. Regular, however, near western Lake Erie in Ohio, where most flocks number ≤ 10 birds; occasionally flocks > 100 seen (126). Regular in small numbers at select sites along the Atlantic Coast, such as Monomoy Island on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where up to 200 have been found in August; higher counts are associated with severe northeasterly storms (127). Also an uncommon to fairly common transient in Delaware marshes along the coast of Delaware Bay (128). Selected dates: Montreal, late July–early November (129); Magdalen Island, late July to mid-August (130); Nova Scotia, early August–late October (131); New Brunswick, mid-July to late October (132); Massachusetts, early July to mid-October (127); Ohio, late August–late October (126); New Jersey, most mid-August to mid-September, occasionally to late October (133, 134); Delaware, early July–late November with most early August–late October (128).

Elsewhere in North America, the Hudsonian Godwit is infrequent to rare (33); even in Ontario, it is considered unusual away from the Hudson Bay and James Bay coasts (135). Extremely rare in most interior states through which birds pass in spring; fall passage in Kansas occurs early August–late September (116).

Many records from the mid-south Atlantic coast of the U.S. and Barbados associated with strong easterly winds (136, 134). Records from West Indies, where uncommon in Barbados, and very rare elsewhere, range early September–early November (137). Very rare migrant in the western U.S. and nonbreeding areas of Canada (138, 10). Not found in Mexico during the fall (113). Tracking data and the frequency of New Zealand records (see Distribution: Extralimital Records) suggests that some birds join flocks of Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)s prior to migration and are capable of > 11,000 km non-stop flights (e.g., see 62).

Most birds are presumed to arrive in South America south of the Orinoco River delta (2), although staging sites in northern South America are not known (139). Most reports from the Caribbean and South America north of 35°S are of small numbers; e.g., individuals or small flocks were reported in Trinidad mid-September to late October (140) and Venezuela from late July–mid December (141). In Amazonia, it is thought to be extremely rare (142), but observations made during the 1990s suggest the species is quite common at least at some locations, with > 100 birds seen in a day at Marchantaria Island near Manaus, Brazil, where adults are present at least from early September to mid-October and immatures from mid-September to mid-November (S. V. Wilson, B. Whitney, personal communication). Tracking data on migrating birds have shown individuals from Alaska staging in northern South America from southeastern Colombia to northwestern Brazil (Amazonas). A majority of birds migrating from Churchill flew directly to wintering sites further south in Argentina (Senner et al., unpublished data).

Elsewhere inland, they are reported from Paraguay as uncommon during southbound migration, September–December (143, 101); accidental in southern Peru, Bolivia, and northern Ecuador, with small numbers found on upland plateaus of the Patagonia steppe (100, 144, 89). The few birds seen in northern South America during southbound migration and the period of several weeks between peak departure from Canada and arrival in southern South America suggest that additional staging sites remain to be found, perhaps inland in Amazonia.

More numerous farther south in Argentina and Chile, close to major wintering grounds (2, 33, 139). In southern Brazil, numbers peak in November, dropping during December, after which numbers remain stable throughout winter (38). Some birds that initially land in southern Brazil and Uruguay continue south to Tierra del Fuego, where they will remain until early May. Historically, flocks of up to 1,000 reached Argentina as early as July (92); in the coastal Buenos Aires Province, present from late August–late April but with fewer birds midwinter (103, 33, 145).

A number of individuals from breeding populations in Susitna Flats, Alaska and Churchill, Manitoba were equipped with data loggers to track migration to and from South America. Birds from Susitna Flats wintered on the coasts of Chile, on and around Chiloé Island (September 10–April 12). Some of these birds spent brief periods in the Buenos Aires province of Argentina before arriving in Chile (August 31–October 15). Individuals from the Churchill breeding population concentrated in either Uruguay and northeastern Argentina (October 3–May 6) or Tierra del Fuego (October 22–May 3). One bird split its time between both locations. All dates represent earliest arrivals and latest departures.

Historically, at least, small numbers occurred in central Argentina from April to September (91); today the species occurs throughout this period in northern Argentina. These birds are presumably non-breeders, perhaps sub-adults, that make a short northward migration and over-summer in South America.

Migratory Behavior

The Hudsonian Godwit is most often seen as a single bird or in small flocks during spring migration; occasionally groups of ≥ 50 (e.g., 98, 118, 115). It arrives on the breeding ground at Churchill in flocks of several to several dozen individuals. Flocks usually break up within a few hours or days (2, 72), but when spring is late, Hudsonian Godwits congregate in flocks of up to 400 on ponds in the townsite or on icy marshes along the Churchill River and on large tundra pools west of La Pérouse Bay (73, J. R. Jehl, Jr., personal communication). During the first day or two after arrival, individuals spend long periods sleeping and display infrequently (2). Earliest flocks arriving on breeding grounds consist largely of males (72; T. Tobish, unpublished data). Uneven sex ratios reported in South Dakota in May (146) may also indicate that males migrate earlier in spring.

During fall, premigratory foraging flocks numbering up to the low hundreds start to gather on coastal mudflats near breeding areas (72, 61, 35); migrating flocks range in size up to several hundred in major staging areas such as James Bay (41, 2, 123). Farther south, much smaller flocks are typical, and gatherings of > 100 birds are rare between Canadian staging sites and areas north of 35°S. Flocks traveling along the west coast of James Bay in fall flew in “broad flat V's and crescent-shaped lines with very little wavering or changing of formation” (41: 575). On departure from southern James Bay, birds fly in a southeasterly direction; migratory flights begin late afternoon and presumably continue into the night (2).

At stopover sites, the Hudsonian Godwit often shares feeding habitat with a variety of other shorebird species.

Control and Physiology of Migration

Little information. At the Magdalen Islands, Quebec, the fat content of individuals increased from about one-third to one-half of their total dry weight during August, yielding a mean flight range estimate of 3,380 km (range 1,400–4,600 km, n = 4; 147). At Quill Lakes during the fall staging period, masses of birds collected before and after 11 August were significantly different (302 g ± 58 SD [n = 11] and 366 g ± 38 SD [n = 10], respectively); rate of fat deposition estimated at 2.4–2.8 g/d (4, 6). Lean mass was 250 g ± 8 SD (range 241–265, n = 8) for adult females and 216 g ± 12 SD (range 194–237, n = 13) for adult males. Fat mass for the same birds was 113 g ± 41 SD (range 50–152) and 79 g ± 39 SD (range 10–122) for females and males, respectively. Proportion of fat averaged 30% in females, 25% in males, and ranged up to 38%. No evidence for increase in protein mass, which averaged 51 g ± 3 SD (range 48–55) in females and 43 g ± 3 SD (range 37–49) in males (4). Flight range estimates ranged from 4,900 to 6,700 km (4, 6), indicating that at least some individuals can manage a nonstop flight to South America.

Recommended Citation

Walker, B. M., N. R. Senner, C. S. Elphick, J. Klima, and G. Contreras (2024). Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica), version 1.1. In Birds of the World (N. D. Sly, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.hudgod.01.1