Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica


Justification of Red List Category
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.

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number c. 1,099,000-1,149,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2017). The European breeding population is estimated at 3,700-9,000 pairs, which equates to 7,400-18,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). The East Asian-Australasian Flyway population has been estimated at 325,000 individuals (Hansen et al. 2016).

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 (declines of 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 0.71 between 2011 and 2012 (Piersma et al. 2016). Given the low survival, the study suggests that the population will halve within four years. Recent data also suggests that the baueri population may decline by 44% within 10 years (Conklin et al. 2016).

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 ares uncertain, but are potentially in Australia and New Zealand (Van Gils and Wiersma 1996).


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, with satellite data showing western Alaskan individuals can travel >11,000 km. to New Zealand without stopping (Gill et al. 2009).


Threats on the breeding grounds include oil and gas exploration and associated infrastructure development, legal subsistence harvesting and illegal hunting, and increases in predator numbers (Brown et al. 2014). Climate change has the potential to affect vegetation and the extent of suitable breeding habitat (P. Battley in litt. 2016).
The species is threatened by the degradation of stopover and non-breeding sites due to land reclamation, shellfisheries, pollution, human disturbance, reduced river flows, 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) (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Kelin and Qiang 2006, Straw and Saintilan 2006, Melville et al. 2016). Anthropogenic nutrient enrichment of wetland areas at non-breeding sites can also cause cyanobacterium blooms that may impact this species's prey species (Estrella et al. 2011).
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, Choi et al. 2015, Melville et al. 2016, Piersma et al. 2016). 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), and the Republic of Korea having lost 75% of its mudflats by 2010 (Moores et al. 2016). 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, while rapid residential, commercial and industrial development in West Africa and the Middle East threatens staging and wintering grounds (Leyrer et al. 2014). Although not currently detected in certain populations (e.g. in Australia [Curran et al. 2014]), the species has also been susceptible to avian influenza in the past so may be threatened by future outbreaks of the virus (Melville and Shortridge 2006). This species may be hunted in some range states, with anecdotal evidence from individuals carrying transmitters being shot (P. Battley in litt. 2016, J. Szabo in litt. 2016).

Conservation actions

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, menzbieri, 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
By working with governments, protect remaining intertidal habitats across the species's range (including the Yellow Sea) to prevent further habitat loss and degradation (Van Gils and Wiersma 1996, Yang et al. 2011, Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2016), and try to restore or create new areas of suitable habitat (Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2016). Adequate protection and management of all important staging sites should be ensured. Incorporate requirements for this species into planning of coastal development (Threatened Species Scientific committee 2016). Legally protect the species in all range states (Leyrer et al. 2014).

Sustainable fisheries in the Wadden Sea and other important European estuaries should be promoted. Continue to monitor the species and expand schemes to provide reliable population estimates. Conduct research to improve knowledge of threats. Particular focus should be given to the impact of pollutants, disturbance and hunting, increasing Red Fox Vulpes vulpes abundance, changes in lemming population cycles and the northward encroachment of scrub habitat (Brown et al. 2014, Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2016). Additionally, the impacts of climate change in the high Arctic should investigated. Use tracking technology to identify migration routes, key staging sites and timing of migration across its range (Leyrer et al. 2014, Threatened Species Scientific Committee 2016). Increase public awareness of the species and highlight the importance of key staging sites (Leyrer et al. 2014).


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 Black-tailed Godwit L. limosa.


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

Battley, P., Alaskan Shorebird Group, Balachandran, S., Melville, D., Szabo, J., Nagy, S., van Roomen, M., Meltofte, H.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Limosa lapponica. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/bar-tailed-godwit-limosa-lapponica on 02/06/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org on 02/06/2023.