Marbled godwits are found on the shores of the western United States, from the the Gulf of Mexico all the way up to Alaska in the winter months. They migrate to the northern plains of the U.S. and into the boreal forests of Canada in the summer. Isolated populations also breed in Alaska and in southwestern James Bay in Canada. (Gratto, 2000; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
- Other Geographic Terms
Marbled godwits are the most widespread godwit species. They breed in grasslands or wetlands in the northern prairies of the United States and Canada, especially those lacking in dense or tall vegetation. They are also found in temporary ponds, as well as pastures and hay fields. More northern populations are found in wet tundra or open taiga, lowland meadows and bogs, and in coastal marshes. During migration and winter, they are found in wetlands and marshes, shallow ponds, coastal estuaries, mudflats, salt marshes, and sandy beaches. (Gratto, 2000)
- Aquatic Biomes
- lakes and ponds
- temporary pools
- Range elevation
- 0 to 100 m
- 0.00 to 328.08 ft
Marbled godwits are large tawny brown shorebirds with long legs and slightly upturned bills. They have tawny buff feathers which appear darker on top than underneath. Their underwings are mottled brown with cinnamon and are distinctive in flight. In winter, they are plain underneath, but during the breeding season they have dark barring on their breasts and bellies. Legs are gray or blue-gray and beaks are bright pink to orange. Marbled godwits are most similar to bar-tailed godwits (Limosa lapponica), which are slightly smaller with shorter legs and lack the bright cinnamon underwing of marbled godwits. They range from 42 to 48 cm and weigh 285 to 454 g. Females are larger than males. Their wingspan ranges from 74 to 78 cm. (Gratto, 2000)
- Sexual Dimorphism
- female larger
- Range mass
- 285 to 454 g
- 10.04 to 16.00 oz
- Range length
- 42 to 48 cm
- 16.54 to 18.90 in
- Range wingspan
- 74 to 78 cm
- 29.13 to 30.71 in
Marbled godwits arrive at their breeding range in April or May in more southern populations, and form monogamous pairs. To attract a female, the male performs a high, circling flight display, followed by a steep dive. The male selects a nest site in a dry spot with short grass and starts a shallow scrape. If the female approves it, both will add grass, and sometimes a canopy of grass is then arched over the nest. (Gratto, 2000; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
Marbled godwits breed once per year between May and August. They form loose colonies without obvious territorial boundaries. Nests are constructed on the ground by males and approved by females, usually in an area with short vegetation. Nests are shallow depressions in the ground, lined with grasses and lichen or moss and leaves. (Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
Females almost always lay 4 eggs, and rarely lay 3 or 5. Eggs are pale buff or olive with dark brown or purplish-gray spots or blotches. Both parents incubate the eggs, which are believed to hatch in 24 to 26 days. Parents sometimes join together to mob potential predators to defend young. At birth, precocial young are covered in down, have open eyes, and can walk and attempt to feed at birth. Young marbled godwits leave the nest after 1 to 2 days, and chicks fledge in 26 to 30 days after hatching. (Gratto, 2000)
- Key Reproductive Features
- seasonal breeding
- gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
- Breeding interval
- Marbled godwits breed once per year.
- Breeding season
- Marbled godwits breed from May to August.
- Range eggs per season
- 3 to 5
- Range time to hatching
- 24 to 26 days
- Range time to independence
- 15 to 26 days
- Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
- unknown (low) years
- Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
- unknown (low) years
Both parents incubate the eggs for 24 to 26 days. They protect and tend the young for the first 15 to 26 days, after which the female usually leaves. The male stays with the young until they can fly. (Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
Marbled godwits have a long lifespan. The record for the oldest in the wild was 30 years old. (Vuilleumier, 2009)
- Range lifespan
- 20 to 30 years
- Range lifespan
Marbled godwits are mostly terrestrial birds capable of rapid walking and running. They are migratory, and their flight pattern is described as strong, swift, and direct. They are also capable of swimming if foraging in deep water. Most of their daily time budget is dedicated to foraging. Aggressive behavior is infrequent and often associated with breeding season. Marbled are commonly seen in social flocks with whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) and long-billed curlews (Numenius americanus) along shorelines searching for food. (Gratto, 2000; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
Territories are large, and include both feeding and nesting areas. Areas must be large enough to provide both upland habitat and a diverse range of wetland types. Most marbled godwits spend their entire lives within North America. (Croneweth, 2012; Dechant, et al., 2001)
Communication and Perception
Marbled godwits communicate by calling and physical displays, which are used especially for mate selection and interaction with predators. The call of marbled godwits is nasally, and is described as a slightly crowing or laughing "ah, ha" or "ahk." A specific kind of call is uttered when the individual calling enters a group, and is believed to decrease aggression against the newcomer. (Cornell University, 2011)
- Communication Channels
- Other Communication Modes
The diet of marbled godwits varies with the season and location. In winter or on the coast, primary foods include annelid worms (Polychaeta), small bivalves (Bivalvia), crabs, and earthworms (Lumbricina). In summer or while inland, primary foods include insects such as grasshoppers (Orthoptera), aquatic plant tubers, leeches, and small fish. Marbled godwits move slowly while feeding, probing for food underneath the mud with their sensitive bill. They often insert their entire bill into the mud, and their head remains totally submerged at times. (Gratto, 2000; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
- Animal Foods
- terrestrial worms
- aquatic or marine worms
- aquatic crustaceans
- Plant Foods
- roots and tubers
- seeds, grains, and nuts
Marbled godwits were targeted by hunters in the 1800’s because they lived in huge flocks which were easy to hunt, and because they are large birds with tasty meat. Today, they are preyed upon by raccoons (Procyon lotor) and skunks (Mephitis) when nesting close to developed areas. (Croneweth, 2012)
Marbled godwits are commonly seen in social flocks with whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) and long-billed curlews (N. americanus) along shorelines searching for food. They serve as host to several parasites such as avian botulism, caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulineum. Endoparasites include species-specific nematodes (Skrjabinoclava kristscheri), and other nematodes common in shorebirds (Ancyracanthopsis winegardi). Other nematodes infecting them include Sobolevicephalus lichtenfelsi, Viktoracana limosae, V. capillaris, and Stellocaronema skrjabiniin. Ectoparasites affecting them include mites such as Austromenopon limosae, Actornithophilus limosae, Carduiceps clayae, Lunaceps clayae, Rotundiceps cordatus, Saemundssonia. (Croneweth, 2012; Gratto, 2000; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
- whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus)
- long-billed curlews (N. americanus)
- nematodes (Skrjabinoclava kristscheri)
- nematodes (Ancyracanthopsis winegardi)
- nematodes (Sobolevicephalus lichtenfelsi)
- nematodes (Viktoracana limosae)
- nematodes (Viktoracana capillaris)
- nematodes (Stellocaronema skrjabiniin)
- mites (Austromenopon limosae)
- mites (Actornithophilus limosae)
- mites (Carduiceps clayae)
- mites (Lunaceps clayae)
- mites (Rotundiceps cordatus)
- mites (Saemundssonia)
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Birding groups and tourism are attracted to marbled godwits. They even have days named after them called the Godwit Days. This is a time for lectures, field trips, boat excursions and workshops all based on marbled godwits.
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
There are no known negative economic impacts caused by marbled godwits.
Marbled godwits are a species of least concern according to the IUCN Red List, though they are protected under the United States Migratory Bird Act. The Canadian Wildlife Service estimates the population at 171,500 birds. They were common in the 1800s, but were over-hunted in the early 1900s. Protection from hunting has helped the population rebound, but the destruction of grassland breeding habitat now limits the population. Marbled godwits require wetlands for breeding. As wetland ecosystems decline, marbled godwits will begin to migrate to alternate breeding grounds. After they migrate, their original breeding grounds are more difficult to protect as they no longer live in those areas. (Croneweth, 2012; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
Brooks Kennedy (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
- bilateral symmetry
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species
the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.
- cooperative breeder
helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own
- active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
an area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.
- female parental care
parental care is carried out by females
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
mainly lives in water that is not salty.
a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.
Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
- male parental care
parental care is carried out by males
marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.
makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds
eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
- native range
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
- saltwater or marine
mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.
- seasonal breeding
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
uses touch to communicate
Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.
- tropical savanna and grassland
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
- temperate grassland
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.
uses sight to communicate
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