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Marbled Godwit Life History



Marbled Godwits breed in shortgrass prairies near wetlands. They avoid areas with taller vegetation and occur more often in native grass prairies with green needle grass, western wheatgrass, blue grama, needle-and-thread, and little blue stem. On the wintering grounds, Marbled Godwits forage and rest along coastal mudflats, estuaries, and sandy beaches.

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Aquatic invertebrates

Marbled Godwits eat aquatic invertebrates, earthworms, insects, aquatic plant tubers, leeches, and small fish. They probe soft substrates (mud or sand) with their bill, often submerging their head; they also pick prey from the surface. They don't seem to mind getting their belly wet and will forage in water up to 5 inches deep.

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Nest Placement


Marbled Godwits nest on the ground in shortgrass prairies, often far from water and with little overhead plant cover. Males make several shallow depressions in the ground with their feet and the female chooses which one to lay the eggs in.

Nest Description

The nest is a shallow depression on the ground, often lined with grasses and lichen.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:2.0-2.6 in (5.2-6.6 cm)
Egg Width:1.4-1.6 in (3.6-4.2 cm)
Incubation Period:23-26 days
Nestling Period:1 day
Egg Description:

Pale buff or olive with small dark brown spots and scrawls.

Condition at Hatching:

Covered in down with eyes open and able to walk.

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Marbled Godwits wade through shallow waters, swim if they must, or walk through shortgrass prairies. They fly with their head slightly pulled in with their feet trailing behind and have a rather sharp profile that includes slender, pointed wings. They occasionally perch on fence posts on the breeding grounds. Godwits sleep while standing, often with their bill tucked behind the shoulder while standing on one leg. Marbled Godwits have large territories that include both feeding and nesting areas. In North Dakota for example, average territory size has been measured at more than 200 acres. Within these territories, males perform flight displays early in the breeding season to attract a mate. They fly up to 300 feet above the ground and circle their territory, flying with slow wingbeats and calling. Once paired, they form monogamous bonds for the breeding season. They don't spend the nonbreeding season together, but males and females frequently return to the same area to breed year after year and often breed with the same mate. On the wintering grounds, they forage in groups with other shorebirds including Long-billed Curlews, Hudsonian Godwits, Whimbrels, and Willets.

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Marbled Godwits are common and their populations remained stable between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight gives them a Continental Concern Score of 14 out of 20, placing them on the Yellow Watch List for species with a restricted range. The estimated global breeding population is 170,000 according to Partners in Flight. Prior to 1900, Marbled Godwits bred in Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota, but no longer breed there. Hunting and habitat loss as a result of conversion of prairies to agriculture contributed to extirpation of breeders from these areas. Coastal wintering sites have also been lost or degraded. In San Francisco, California, for example, tidal mudflats have been reduced from around 20,000 acres to about 12,000 acres from 1800 to 2000.

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Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Gratto-Trevor, Cheri L. (2000). Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love (2016). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2016.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

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

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

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

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