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

Sounds and Vocal Behavior



First peeps audible when eggs start to crack, about 3–4 d before hatching. As soon as chick dries, it utters contact note peep and can utter distress call tsseee. Parents appear to vocalize persistently while chicks are agitated, potentially in an effort to cover up the chick distress calls and make localization of the sound more difficult (Senner et al. unpubl,)

Vocal Array

No systematic studies of vocalization behavior; most comprehensive descriptions are by Hagar (Hagar 1966). The most often heard vocalizations stem from 2 basic calls: toe-wit (also rendered as qu-wit, or god-wit) and whit.

Toe-wit call incorporates several harmonics, varying in frequency from at least 1 to 7 kHz, with frequency rising on the second syllable of the call and each call lasting at least 0.2 s (Figure 2A). This call used in various circumstances: on breeding grounds given singly during feeding, roosting, and other maintenance activities; quiet versions of the slow, repetitive sequence of phrases used by females prior to copulation (JK; see Behavior: sexual behavior, below); soft, quiet, and unaccented toe-wit, toe-wit is used by either parent to lead chicks out of nest. Both parents give long sequences of toe-wit calls from the nest on the day of hatch; this call may vary greatly in volume but is never agitated and can last several minutes. It is typically the first call heard in the morning; may be repeated later in the day. Harsher and louder version also used when potential predator approaches. For example, by males when feeding pair is approached by human during egg-laying period; call might become louder and faster as person nears. Both sexes use loud and agitated variation while chasing off avian predators (mainly Common Ravens [Corvus corax] and Parasitic Jaegers [Stercorarius parasiticus]) from vicinity of nest or when humans approach too closely (Hagar 1966, JK). Generally, female's calls are lower, deeper, and harsher than male's (JK).

Long sequences of toe-wit calls, strongly accented on second syllable, form basis of the song, which can be repeated by displaying male constantly for several minutes, with at least 60–100 phrases/min (Figure 2A, Hagar 1966). Toe-wits are often preceded by 1 or several whits. A song sequence initiated in flight may be continued after landing on the ground or in a tree, without breaking the rhythm (JK). Rarely, a displaying bird will utter a few phrases, or an entire series of notes, that is about an octave higher than the rest of the song. Songs of different individuals differ slightly (Hagar 1966). Song presumably functions in mate selection, maintenance of pair bonds, and perhaps territory defense, but little studied.

When alarmed, issues a whit call, often given in pairs or short series. Call incorporates several separate harmonics, which range in frequency from about 1.3 to 11.5 kHz with the frequency of each component rising and then falling; each note lasts 0.1–0.2 s. Exact nature of these whit notes is quite variable, as is spacing between notes (medialink). The whit call may be given repeatedly, 4–10 times/min, by a bird with chicks that senses danger; sometimes expanded to whee'-wit or whee'-wee-wit, with a rising inflection on first syllable. As perceived danger nears, calling rate rises to >60 calls/min: whit, whit, whee'-wit, whit, whit, whit, whit, whit, whee'-wit . Whit calls are accompanied by a quick retraction and extension of the neck, a counterbalancing flick of the tail, and an opening of the bill (Hagar 1966).

Single whit note often heard at the beginning of a series of toe-wit phrases, and incubating birds very rarely respond to flight calls of conspecifics by uttering whit calls from the nest in perfect synchrony with toe-wit s of flying bird. When feeding, bathing, or preening, may utter short-range contact notes wheet, wheet, softer and not as loud as song or alarm calls (JK). When pair feeds together, each member may call when it gets to a place especially rich in food; call often given with bill slightly open, sometimes partially immersed in the water.

In addition to vocalizations based on these 2 basic calls, Hudsonian Godwits make a number of other sounds during the breeding season. For example, a loud and harsh, rasping squawk is delivered by individuals if flushed from eggs, or by parents when a human catches or picks up a chick. Loud calls and shrills might be uttered intermittently with various hissing sounds. While chasing avian predators from aerial vicinity of nest, toe-wit call given when danger is close, and whit when predator leaves vicinity of nest.

Landing Call. Upon landing, both sexes frequently give a harsh, sharp, squawking chchcheeck, repeated almost constantly for up to 1 min. On breeding grounds, this call is uttered after almost every landing until chicks hatch, but because it is not loud, it easily escapes human attention. This landing call is often followed by a series of 20–30 toe-wit s, repeated slightly more often than 1/s, with no breaks between calls, uttered with bill only slightly open. This call usually associated with presence of conspecific within audible range. The chchcheeck call is sometimes replaced by a series of single kik calls (JK). Figure 2F shows the terminal notes of a landing call.

Various other calls are given less often. Adults produce a drone that is not very loud but dynamic, especially toward the end, with later phrases fast and descending: toe-wit, toe-wit, toe-wit, toe-wit, toe-wit, toe-wit, qula, qula, qula, qula, babababababa; or toe-wit, toe-wit, toe-wit, durby, durby, durby . This vocalization is given in flight or from ground. Adults also use various quiet calls and harsh whispers usually uttered in series, and often audible only from very nearby; these calls may be uttered with a closed bill, although throat can be seen vibrating (JK). Males may give chattering call after copulation (CSE). Adults use a soft, quiet cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck-cuck to call chicks for brooding during the first few days of life (Hagar 1966); chicks regularly give peep contact notes, and a tsseee note when stressed.

Nonbreeding birds generally quiet. Calls closely resemble those of all other species of godwit (Hagar 1966), but higher pitched (Sibley 2000). When disturbed, may give calls (rendered as qua qua, Wetmore 1926c; ta-whit, Paulson 1993) resembling those of Marbled Godwit, but higher pitched and softer (W. Rowan in Bent 1927, Paulson 1993). One call rendered as chow chow and considered similar to a Bar-tailed Godwit's call, though softer and less strident, but quite unlike Black-tailed Godwit (Grieve 1987). Flight call described as a high kwid'wid or kweh-weh with rising syllables; individuals also heard to give high week or kwee notes reminiscent of, but softer than, a Black-necked Stilt (Himanto-pus mexicanus; Sibley 2000).

No information on geographic variation among populations.


On breeding grounds, intensity of displays and singing increases after a day or 2 of prolonged resting periods immediately after arrival and persists at a high level through the egg-laying period (Hagar 1966, L. Tibbitts pers. comm., CSE, Senner et al. unpubl). Displays and singing subsequently diminish in frequency until late in incubation period or if nest has failed males are attempting to renest; other vocalizations given in appropriate context throughout breeding season (Senner et al. unpubl.). Rarely calls during migration (W. Rowan in Bent 1927).

Daily Pattern

At Churchill, MB, Hudsonian Godwit is the first shorebird species to vocalize and display at sunrise. After dawn, vocal activity drops before markedly increasing again around 08:00–09:00. High vocal activity lasts for several hours thereafter. Early in spring, vocalization and displaying suppressed by inclement weather (J. R. Jehl, Jr., pers. comm., JK). No vocalizations heard during several nights of observations prior to hatching (JK).

At Susitna Flats, daily routine often follows the tidal cycle, as adults frequently travel to forage in intertidal habitats throughout the day. Toe-wit calls and display flights are undertaken as males return to their territories following a feeding bout in the intertidal area. Groups of males frequently return to their breeding territories simultaneously and co-display or engage in aggressive interactions. Females instead generally return to territories silently (Senner et al. unpubl.)

Places Of Vocalizing

Song usually given during flight display, but also from treetop perches. Various calls given from ground, in flight, and from treetops. See also above.

Repertoire And Delivery Of Songs

Length and delivery of song varies, both within and among individuals; often only a short version of the typical song is given (JK).

Social Context And Presumed Functions

See above. In general, functions are presumed based on context or studies of other species; little objective evidence for any.

Nonvocal Sounds

None known to have a communicative function. Sound made by wind passing over partially folded wings when bird dives toward ground at the end of display flights; this sound presumably similar to that produced by other godwits during nose dives (e.g., McCaffery and Gill 2001).

Hudsonian Godwit Figure 2. Hudsonian Godwit vocalizations.
Figure 2. Hudsonian Godwit vocalizations.

A. Sequence of toe-wit notes forming breeding song. B–E: Several variants of the whit call, showing variation in the notes made and the spacing between notes; F: Terminal notes of landing call. Recordings A–F obtained at Churchill, MB, on 13–14 Jun 1979 by William Gunn; sonograms prepared by Cornell Library of Natural Sounds (catalogue nos. 60806-60808).

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