Rare bird for South Carolina: Bar-tailed Godwit

If you follow Charleston County rare-bird sitings, you would have seen several recent postings of a Bar-tailed Godwit.  It has been seen in a lagoon on the Ocean Course of Kiawah.   SIB participants in our Learning Together at Kiawah on Sunday were able to capture a good view of this rare bird.  Research on the Audubon’s site resulted in finding the information below.

Bar-tailed GodwitLimosa lapponica

The Bar-tailed Godwit is a sandpiper.  It is a relatively short-legged species of godwit. The bill-to-tail length is 15–16 in, with a wingspan of 28–31 in. Males average smaller than females but with much overlap; males weigh 6.7–14.1 oz, while females weigh 9.2–22.2 oz; there is also some regional variation in size  with the European sub-species being the smallest. The adult has blue-grey legs and a long, tapering, slightly upturned bi-colored bill: pink at the base and black towards the tip. The neck, breast and belly are unbroken brick red in breeding plumage, and dark brown above.  Females breeding plumage is much duller than males, with a chestnut to cinnamon belly.  Breeding plumage is not fully apparent until the third year, and there are three distinguishable age classes; during their first migration north immature males are noticeably paler in color than more mature males. Non-breeding birds seen in the Southern Hemisphere are plain grey-brown with darker feather centers, giving them a striped look, and are whitish underneath. Juveniles are similar to non-breeding adults but more buff overall with streaked plumages on flanks and breast.

The birds’ main source of food in wetlands is bristle-worms (up to 70%), supplemented by small bivalves and crustaceans. In wet pastures, bar-tailed godwits eat invertebrates.  The bird seen on Kiawah is usually seen foraging in shallow water, probing its long beak into the sand below the surface.

The recently sited bird is assumed to be a European sub-species.  This subspecies typically breeds in Scandanavia to northwest Siberia.  They typically winter on the western coasts of Europe and Africa from the British Isles and the Netherlands south to South Africa, and also around the Persian Gulf.  Articles about other subspecies mention breeding near Bearing Straight in Russia and western Alaska then winter in Australia and New Zealand.  These birds are known to fly non-stop for 8 days during their migration.

If you would like to learn more about this bird visit:

Bar-tailed Godwit Range Map – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Article submitted by: Judy Morr
Photographs provided by: Michael Harhold and Walter Brooks

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