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Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica

This species has an extremely large range and consists of several subpopulations using different flyways. The lapponica subspecies which breeds and winters within Europe is thought to be experiencing an increase in the wintering population but the breeding trend is unknown. Of the taymyrensis subspecies which breeds in Siberia the population wintering in west and south-west Africa is estimated to be declining whilst the trend for the population wintering in south and south-west Asia and east Africa is not known. Two subspecies, menzbieri and baueri, use the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and are both undergoing extremely rapid declines, probably owing to severe habitat loss in the Yellow Sea. As a result of severe declines in populations using the East Asian-Australasian Flyway the species has been uplisted to Near Threatened; it almost meets the requirements for listing as threatened under criteria A2abc+3bc+4abc.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

37-41 cm medium-sized godwit. Slightly upcurved bill and barred tail, in flight, lacks white wingbar and has white underwing. Virtually no barring on underparts. Upperparts fringed chestnut, shorter legs and bill and less upright stance than other godwits. Female larger, paler and with longer bill. Non-breeding adults have pale grey-brown upperparts, partly edged whitish, breast turns grey with fine dark streaking, underparts white (Van Gils and Wiersma 1996). Similar spp. Has less white on rufous underparts than Bar-tailed Godwit L. limosa.

Distribution and population
The species breeds across the Arctic from northern Europe through Siberia to Alaska (U.S.A.), wintering along the coasts of western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, south- and south-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand. L. l. lapponica breeds in northern parts of Fennoscandia east through the Kola and Kanin Peninsulas (Russia) and winters on the coasts of Africa, east to the Persian Gulf and west India. L. l. taymyrensis breeds in north-west and north-central Siberia from the Yamal Peninsula to the River Anabar basin, it winters on the coasts of Africa east to the Persian Gulf and west India. A large proportion of the taymyrensis population winters at Bar al Hikman, Oman (87,187 individuals in December 2013 [de Fouw in litt. to Wetlands International]). L. l. menzbieri breeds in northern Siberia between the Lena Delta and Chaunskaya Bay, wintering from south-east Asia to north-west Australia. L. l. baueri breeds from north-east Siberia (east of Chaunskaya Bay) to west and north Alaska, wintering from China to Australia, New Zealand and some south-west Pacific islands. L. l. anadyrensis breeds in east Siberia (Chukotka and Anadyr lowlands), wintering in Australia and possibly New Zealand (Van Gils and Wiersma 1996).

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number c. 999,000-1,049,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2015). The European breeding population is estimated at 3,700-9,000 pairs, which equates to 7,400-18,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015).

Trend justification
The overall population trend is thought to be decreasing, although some populations may be stable and others have unknown trends (Wetlands International 2015). In Europe (lapponica population) the breeding population trend is unknown however the wintering population trend is increasing (BirdLife International 2015). In West Africa (taymyrensis population) the population decreased between 2003 and 2014 and between 1979 and 2014 (745,803 wintering birds in 1980s, 516,920 in the 1990s and 497,433 in the 2010s) (van Roomen et al. 2014). In East Africa (taymyrensis population) the population trend is unknown (Wetlands International 2015). Approximately 27-28% of the global population uses the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (menzbieri and baueri populations) and there is considerable concern that loss of intertidal stopover habitat in the Yellow Sea region of East Asia is driving population declines in shorebirds (Amano et al. 2010, Yang et al. 2011). Both the menzbieri and baueri populations have experienced strong declines (-79.1% and -30.2% over three generations) according to monitoring data from around Australia and New Zealand (Studds et al. in prep.). An analysis of survival rates provides additional evidence for declines in the menzbieri population. Survival of the species remained relatively high in north-west Australia, however during time away from Australia the population began to decline in 2011, with an annual survival rate of 0.69 between 2011 and 2012 (Piersma et al. submitted). Given the low survival, the study suggests that the population will halve within four years. Recent data also suggests that the baueri population may halve within 10 years (Conklin et al. submitted in D. Melville in litt. 2015).

The species breeds in marshy, swampy areas in lowland moss and shrub tundra (Johnsgard 1981, Flint et al. 1984, del Hoyo et al. 1996) near wet river valleys (Johnsgard 1981), lakes and sedge bogs (Flint et al. 1984), as well as on swampy heathlands in the willow and birch zone near the Arctic treeline (Johnsgard 1981), in open larch Larix spp. woodland close to water (del Hoyo et al. 1996), and occasionally on open bogs in the extreme north of the coniferous forest zone (Johnsgard 1981). The nest is a depression positioned on a dry elevated site (del Hoyo et al. 1996) such as a tundra ridge (Johnsgard 1981) or hummock (Flint et al.1984), often between clumps of grass (del Hoyo et al. 1996) or under a thicket (Flint et al. 1984). On passage the species may frequent inland wetlands (Hayman et al. 1986), sandy beaches with pine Pinus spp. stands, swampy lowlands near lakes (Flint et al. 1984) and short-grass meadows, but during the winter it is more common in intertidal areas along muddy coastlines, estuaries, inlets, mangrove-fringed lagoons and sheltered bays (del Hoyo et al. 1996) with tidal mudflats or sandbars (Johnsgard 1981).

When breeding the species feeds on insects, annelid worms, molluscs and occasionally seeds and berries (del Hoyo et al. 1996). In intertidal areas the species's diet consists of annelids (e.g. Nereis spp. and Arenicola spp.), bivalves and crustaceans, although it will also take cranefly larvae and earthworms on grasslands and occasionally larval amphibians (tadpoles) and small fish (del Hoyo et al. 1996). This species is a full long-distance migrant (del Hoyo et al. 1996).

The species is threatened by the degradation of foraging sites due to land reclamation, pollution, human disturbance (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Kelin and Qiang 2006), reduced river flows (Kelin and Qiang 2006) and in some areas the invasion of mudflats and coastal saltmarshes by mangroves (owing to sea-level rise and increased sedimentation and nutrient loads at the coast from uncontrolled development and soil erosion in upstream catchment areas) (Straw and Saintilan 2006). Loss of intertidal stopover habitats due to reclamation activities in the Yellow Sea region of the East Asian-Australasian Flyway is thought to be driving declines in shorebird populations (Amano et al. 2010, Yang et al. 2011, Leyrer et al. 2014). It is estimated that up to 65% of tidal flats in the Yellow Sea region have been lost over the past five decades, with an annual loss of 1.2% per year since the 1980s (Murray et al. 2014). These losses are attributed to urban, industrial and agricultural expansion within the region.

Development elsewhere in the species's range is also considered a threat to important habitat: potential oil and gas extraction activities and commercial and industrial development threaten staging and non-breeding grounds in West Africa, the Middle East and the Wadden Sea; rapid residential, commercial and industrial development in West Africa and the Middle East threatens staging and wintering grounds (Leyrer et al. 2014). The species is also susceptible to avian influenza so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus (Melville and Shortridge 2006).

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
EU Birds Directive Annex I and II. CMS Appendix II. L. l. taymyrensis is listed in Column B, categories 2a and 2c of the AEWA Action Plan and L. l. lapponica is in Column B, category 2a (Leyrer et al. 2014). In 2014, four subspecies were proposed for listing for Cooperative Action under CMS (L. l. taymyrensis, menzbeiri, anadyrensis and baueri) (Leyrer et al. 2014). The removal of Spartina anglica from tidal mudflats using a herbicide has shown benefits for the species (Evans 1986).

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Protect remaining intertidal habitats across the species's range (including the Yellow Sea) to prevent further habitat loss and degradation (Yang et al. 2011). Adequate protection and management of all important staging sites should be ensured, particularly in Germany and the Netherlands. Legally protect the species in all range states (Leyrer et al. 2014). Important staging and wintering areas in France, Portugal and Guinea-Bissau are not yet protected (Van Gils and Wiersma 1996). 

Sustainable fisheries in the Wadden Sea and other important European estuaries should be promoted and the impacts of climate change in the high Arctic investigated. Continue to monitor the species and expand schemes to provide reliable population estimates. Investigate the threat posed by pollutants. Use tracking technology to identify migration routes, key staging sites and timing of migration (Leyrer et al. 2014). Increase public awareness of the species and highlight the importance of key staging sites (Leyrer et al. 2014). Particular focus should be given to the impact of increasing Red Fox Vulpes vulpes abundance, changes in lemming population cycles and the northward encroachment of scrub habitat (Brown et al. 2014).

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Amano, T.; Szekely, T.; Koyama, K.; Amano, H.; Sutherland, W. J. 2010. A framework for monitoring the status of populations: an example from wader populations in the East Asian-Australasian flyway. Biological Conservation 143: 2238-2247.

BirdLife International. 2015. European Red List of Birds. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

Brown, D., Crockford, N., and Sheldon, R. 2014. Drivers of population change and conservation priorities for the Numeniini populations of the world. RSPB and IWSG.

del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., and Sargatal, J. 1996. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 3: Hoatzin to Auks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Evans, P. R. 1986. Use of the Herbicide 'Dalapon' for Control of Spartina Encroaching on Intertidal Mudflats: Beneficial Effects on Shorebirds. Colonial Waterbirds 9(1): 171-175.

Flint, V.E., Boehme, R.L., Kostin, Y.V. and Kuznetsov, A.A. 1984. A field guide to birds of the USSR. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

Hayman, P.; Marchant, J.; Prater, A. J. 1986. Shorebirds. Croom Helm, London.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Johnsgard, P. A. 1981. The plovers, sandpipers and snipes of the world. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, U.S.A. and London.

Kelin, C.; Qiang, X. 2006. Conserving migratory shorebirds in the Yellow Sea region. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 319. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Leyrer, J., van Nieuwenhove, N., Crockford, N. and Delany, S. 2014. Proposals for Concerted and Cooperative Action for Consideration by CMS COP 11, November 2014. BirdLife International and International Wader Study Group.

Melville, D. S.; Shortridge, K. F. 2006. Migratory waterbirds and avian influenza in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway with particular reference to the 2003-2004 H5N1 outbreak. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 432-438. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Murray, N.J., Clemens, R.S., Phinn, S.R., Possingham, H.P. and Fuller, R.A. 2014. Tracking the rapid loss of tidal wetlands in the Yellow Sea. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 267-272.

Piersma, T., Lok, T., Chen, Y., Hassell, C.J., Yang, H.-Y., Boyle, A., Slaymaker, M., Chan, Y.-C., Melville, D.S., Zhang, Z.-W. and Ma, Z. Submitted. Simultaneous declines in summer survival of three shorebird species signals a flyway at risk. PLOS Biology.

Straw, P.; Saintilan, N. 2006. Loss of shorebird habitat as a result of mangrove incursion due to sea-level rise and urbanization. In: Boere, G.; Galbraith, C., Stroud, D. (ed.), Waterbirds around the world, pp. 717-720. The Stationary Office, Edinburgh, UK.

Studds, C.E. et al. in prep.. Dependence on the Yellow Sea predicts population collapse in a migratory flyway.

Vahatalo, A. V.; Rainio, K.; Lehikoinen, A.; Lehikoinen, E. 2004. Spring arrival of birds depends on the North Atlantic Oscillation. Journal of Avian Biology 35: 210-216.

Van Gils, J. and Wiersma, P. 1996. Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. and de Juana, E. (eds), Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

van Roomen, M., van Winden, E. and Langendoen, T. 2014. The assessment of trends and population sizes of a selection of waterbird species and populations from the coastal East Atlantic Flyway for Conservation Status Report 6 of The African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement.

Wetlands International. 2015. Waterbird Population Estimates. Available at: (Accessed: 17/09/2015).

Yang, H.Y., Chen, B., Barter, M., Piersma, T., Zhou, C-F., Li, F-S. and Zhang, Z-W. 2011. Impacts of tidal land reclamation in Bohai Bay, China: ongoing losses of critical Yellow Sea waterbird staging and wintering sites. Bird Conservation International 21: 241-259.

Further web sources of information
Detailed regional assessment and species account from the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International, 2015)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Malpas, L., Ashpole, J & Symes, A.

Meltofte, H., van Roomen, M., Melville, D., Balachandran, S., Nagy, S. & Alaskan Shorebird Group

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Limosa lapponica. Downloaded from on 28/11/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/11/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Scolopacidae (Sandpipers, Snipes, Phalaropes)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1,470,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment