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Hudsonian Godwit Life History



Hudsonian Godwits breed in the arctic, especially where the boreal forest (taiga) gives way to wet tundra meadows and bogs. This transitional zone is a mosaic of marshes and drier hummocks that support small trees and shrubs. This kind of boggy habitat is called “muskeg” (a Cree word) and features acidic soils rich in sphagnum mosses and sedges. Among the plant species recorded in nesting areas are black spruce, sweet gale, arctic birch, larch, dwarf rhododendron, arctic willow, bog rosemary, bog bilberry, water sedge, tufted bulrush, and many species of sedges, mosses, grasses, and lichens. Hudsonian Godwits sometimes forage near the nest in this habitat, but they also fly to nearby coastlines of large bays or deltas to forage in tidal mudflats and marsh edges. During their very long migration, Hudsonian Godwits fly over vast areas of continent and ocean, stopping in open wetlands such as lakes, large rainwater pools, flooded agricultural areas (including rice farms), sewage ponds, freshwater impoundments, and wet pastures. They also use saltmarshes, brackish swamps, estuaries, lagoons. They often roost on adjacent beaches and shelly areas. Migrating flocks may land at high-elevation lakes in the Andes (as high as 12,140 feet in Bolivia). In recent decades, observers have documented flocks in Amazonian Brazil landing on muddy islands that emerge as river levels fall during the dry season. This regular route has been confirmed by satellite-tracking studies. Hudsonian Godwits winter mostly on tidal mudflats in coastal Argentina and Chile. Some also winter farther north, in Brazil and Uruguay, where they feed in freshwater and brackish lagoons, swamps, stream edges, and wet grasslands.

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Aquatic invertebrates

Hudsonian Godwits eat mostly invertebrates that live in soil and mud. They hunt mostly by touch, inserting their long bills into the substrate to feel for prey, which they capture by closing the bill quickly, sometimes with the head submerged. Normally they probe quickly with the bill several times, then step forward and probe again, in a manner similar to dowitchers. They also capture prey by picking from the surface, and in this case they hunt both by touch and by sight, plucking prey from the water’s surface, from the ground, or from vegetation. Occasionally, if they spot prey at a distance, they run or even fly to a spot to capture the item. Prey include larval and adult beetles, flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, small snails, earthworms, marine worms (polychaetes, nereids), baltic clams and other bivalves, small crustaceans such as amphipods, and fiddler crabs. Migrants also eat plant tubers, especially of dwarf spikerush and sago pondweed, which they unearth by grasping and twisting, and various berries (crowberries, bilberries) and seeds (rushes and pondweeds).

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Nest Placement


The male makes scrapes in drier portions of the territory and sometimes in nearby areas; females may make scrapes as well. The female decides which scrape will become the nest. The nest is usually in a sedge marsh, set on a dry hummock, with dwarf birch or other shrubs close by.

Nest Description

Nests are scrapes or depressions in the ground, barely lined with twigs, dead leaves, sedges, bog rosemary, spruce needles, grasses, mosses, and lichens. Nests average about 5.6 inches across and 1.7 inches tall.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-4 eggs
Egg Description:

Olive gray, pearl gray, buffy olive, or greenish, with dark speckling.

Condition at Hatching:

Active and covered with down.

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Hudsonian Godwits begin courtship as soon as they arrive on nesting grounds, even when snow still blankets the tundra. Territorial males spiral erratically upward on rapidly beating wings, calling until they reach a point high above the territory. They then commence an exaggerated “butterfly” display, beating the wings slowly above the level of the body, rocking side to side, and singing, then gliding with wings held upswept in a V-shape. To finish the display, males point the bill toward earth, fold the wings to the body, and drop straight down—pulling out of the plummet about 30 feet above the ground, then gliding to perch atop a stunted tree or hummock, and finally fanning the tail and raising a wing. If a female is present, a male might also dive toward her, opening the wings to make a winnowing sound. Males sometimes hover above the territory, facing into the wind, and often pursue females in flight. When paired, male and female may join together in lovely displays in which both fly on trembling, downward-arched wings, calling. Males are highly territorial, driving away rival males in flight or, if threat displays are ineffective, by fighting on the ground. Early in the nesting season, they often drive other shorebirds away from their territories, (but oddly, they often permit Short-billed Dowitchers to join in their aerial displays). Hudsonian Godwits appear to be monogamous, though unmated males often attempt to mate with paired females. Mates sometimes repartner in consecutive breeding seasons and use the same territory. Territories vary in size, and pairs may nest far from the initial displaying area, suggesting that females perhaps select the nesting site. Both parents defend the nest site and tend chicks until they fledge (uncommon in shorebirds). Family groups gather into flocks in nesting areas, but adults typically migrate earlier than juveniles. Migrants and wintering birds tend to be sociable, occasionally jousting with flockmates but not maintaining winter feeding territories as some shorebird species do.

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Restricted Range

Because of their remote arctic breeding habitat, Hudsonian Godwit population trends are not well known. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 77,000 and rates the species a 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, placing it on the Yellow Watch List for species with restricted ranges. One 2012 study indicated that while western populations appear stable, the eastern populations have declined in recent decades. The reasons for these declines (and other shorebird species in the same region) could involve burgeoning populations of Snow Geese and Canada Geese, which overgraze tundra areas. In some nesting areas, disturbance and habitat degradation by oil and gas development activities has reduced available habitat. The species is subject to hunting in South America and the Caribbean. Loss of wetland habitats, particularly in the Great Plains, could harm migrants, which rely on key sites to refuel for their long migrations. In wintering areas, disturbance and development (for instance, aquaculture farms in Chile) appear to be detrimental. As for many species of birds that nest in the arctic and subarctic regions, changes in habitats and prey availability that result from climate change likely represent the chief conservation threats to Hudsonian Godwit.

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Andres, B. A., P. A. Smith, R. I. G. Morrison, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, S. C. Brown, and C. A. Friis (2012). Population estimates of North American shorebirds, 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin 119:178–194.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Walker, Brad M., Nathan R. Senner, Chris S. Elphick and Joanna Klima. (2011). Hudsonian Godwit (Limosa haemastica), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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