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Temporal range: Barstovian–recent[1]
Black-tailed (front) and Bar-tailed godwit (back)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Scolopacidae
Subfamily: Tringinae
Genus: Limosa
Brisson, 1760
Type species
Scolopax limosa
Linnaeus, 1758

4, see text

The godwits are a group of four large, long-billed, long-legged and strongly migratory waders of the bird genus Limosa. Their long bills allow them to probe deeply in the sand for aquatic worms and molluscs. In their winter range, they flock together where food is plentiful. They frequent tidal shorelines, breeding in northern climates in summer and migrating south in winter. A female bar-tailed godwit made a flight of 29,000 km (18,000 mi), flying 11,680 kilometres (7,260 mi) of it without stopping.[2] In 2020 a male bar-tailed godwit flew about 12,200 kilometres (7,600 mi) non-stop in its migration from Alaska to New Zealand, previously a record for avian non-stop flight.[3] In October 2022, a 5 month old, male bar-tailed godwit was tracked from Alaska to Tasmania, a trip that took 11 days, and recorded a non-stop flight of 8,400 miles (13,500 km).[4]

The godwits can be distinguished from the curlews by their straight or slightly upturned bills, and from the dowitchers by their longer legs. The winter plumages are fairly drab, but three species have reddish underparts when breeding. The females are appreciably larger than the males.

Godwits were once a popular British dish. Sir Thomas Browne writing in about 1682 noted that godwits "were accounted the daintiest dish in England".[5]

A flock of migratory waders, dominated by bar-tailed godwit


The genus Limosa was introduced by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760 with the black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) as the type species.[6][7] The genus name Limosa is from Latin and means "muddy", from limus, "mud".[8] The English name "godwit" was first recorded in about 1416–17 and is believed to imitate the bird's call.[5]

The genus contains four living species:[9]

Fossil species

In addition, there are two or three species of fossil prehistoric godwits. Limosa vanrossemi is known from the Monterey Formation (Late Miocene, approx. 6 mya) of Lompoc, United States. Limosa lacrimosa is known from the Early Pliocene of Western Mongolia (Kurochkin, 1985). Limosa gypsorum of the Late Eocene (Montmartre Formation, some 35 mya) of France may have actually been a curlew or some bird ancestral to both curlews and godwits (and possibly other Scolopacidae), or even a rail, being placed in the monotypic genus Montirallus by some (Olson, 1985). Certainly, curlews and godwits are rather ancient and in some respects primitive lineages of scolopacids, further complicating the assignment of such possibly basal forms.[10]

In a 2001 study comparing the ratios cerebrum to brain volumes in various dinosaur species, Hans C. E. Larsson found that more derived dinosaurs generally had proportionally more voluminous cerebrum.[11] Limosa gypsorum, then regarded as a Numenius species, was a discrepancy in this general trend.[12] L. gypsorum was only 63% of the way between a typical reptilian ratio and that of modern birds.[12] However, this may be explainable if the endocast was distorted, as it had been previously depicted in the past by Deschaseaux, who is described by Larsson as calling the endocast "slightly anteroposteriorly sheared and laterally compressed."[12]


  1. ^ "Limosa Brisson 1760 (godwit)". PBDB.
  2. ^ "Bird Completes Epic Flight Across the Pacific". ScienceDaily. US Geological Survey. 17 September 2007.
  3. ^ Boffey, Daniel (13 October 2020). "'Jet fighter' godwit breaks world record for non-stop bird flight". The Guardian.
  4. ^ "An Incredible Bird Was Tracked As It Made A Cross-Globe Journey From Alaska To Tasmania (video)". The Weather Channel. 27 October 2022. Retrieved 27 October 2022.
  5. ^ a b "Godwit". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  6. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode Contenant la Divisio Oiseaux en Ordres, Sections, Genres, Especes & leurs Variétés (in French and Latin). Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. Vol. 1, p. 48, Vol. 5, p. 261.
  7. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1934). Check-list of Birds of the World. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 263.
  8. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 227. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  9. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2019). "Buttonquail, plovers, seedsnipe, sandpipers". World Bird List Version 9.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Archived from the original on 21 December 2018. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  10. ^ Thomas, Gavin H.; Wills, Matthew A.; Székely, Tamás (2004). "A supertree approach to shorebird phylogeny". BMC Evol. Biol. 4: 28. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-4-28. PMC 515296. PMID 15329156.
  11. ^ "Allometric Comparison", in Larsson (2001). p. 27.
  12. ^ a b c "Allometric Comparison", in Larsson (2001). p. 30.

General sources

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