Alaska Science Center

Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica

High-Priority Species List

The Bar-tailed Godwit is a high priority species because migrant godwits arriving in Alaska to breed each spring are just days removed from their staging sites along the coast of eastern Asia. This species is one of only four on the priority species sampling list that has the entire population wintering in Asia and has contact with a known hot spot.
The entire Alaska-breeding race of the Bar-tailed Godwit (L. l. baueri) migrates through the East Asian/Australasian flyway (McCaffery and Gill 2001). Each September, tens of thousands depart from their staging grounds in western Alaska on a non-stop over-water flight of up to 11,000 km to reach their non-breeding range in New Zealand and Australia (Gill et al. 2005). In early April, migrant flocks apparently fly directly from the non-breeding grounds to staging sites in China and the Koreas along the coast of the Yellow Sea (Battley 1997, Wilson and Barter 1998). While spending several weeks in this area, Bar-tailed Godwits feed and roost with many other species of waterbirds that have spent the non-breeding season throughout southeast Asia, Australia, and New Zealand (Barter 2002). Once they have acquired enough fat for their non-stop flight to the breeding grounds, L. l. baueri then head north directly to western and northern Alaska (McCaffery and Gill 2001).
No. of samples: Total 500+ from Alaska.
Sampling locations: The primary sampling effort will occur during autumn staging when the entire Alaskan population is located along the coast of southwest Alaska. Because the specific distribution of post-breeding migrants in space and time within the staging distribution has not been determined for birds nesting in different areas of Alaska, sampling should span the geographic and temporal range of the staging population. Specific locations include three sites on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (Tutakoke River, Tern Mountain, Kuskokwim Shoals) and one on the Alaska Peninsula (Egegik). In past years, accessible roosts have been found at all locations. Under similar conditions, the collection of > 200 individual samples/site would be feasible. Secondary sampling will occur on the YKD among spring staging birds at Tutakoke River (up to 100 cloacal swabs and/or fecal samples) and breeding birds at Old Chevak (up to a few dozen cloacal swabs and/or fecal samples). Sampling of breeders will also occur on the Seward Peninsula and/or on the Colville River Delta in northern Alaska.
Sampling timeframe: Primary sampling will occur in August-September on the coast of YKD and Alaska Peninsula. Secondary sampling will occur during May at Tutakoke, May-July at Old Chevak, and June-July on the Seward Peninsula and Colville River Delta.
Sample demographics: Adults will be sampled during spring migration and on the breeding grounds. Both adults and juveniles will be sampled during autumn staging, although the relative proportion of the age classes sampled will likely vary among sites.
Methods of capture: The sample goal can most easily be achieved through fecal sampling at on-shore roost sites in autumn. Smaller numbers of samples can be obtained from fecal sampling and/or live capture (~20-40 birds/site) of adults at the 3-4 secondary sampling sites.
Other targeted species: At the proposed primary sampling sites it will be possible to sample moderate to large numbers of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Dunlins, and Rock Sandpipers.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Yukon Delta NWR (August through October)
Contact: Brian McCaffery

U.S. Geological Survey
Alaska Science Center - Shorebird Project
Contact: Robert Gill
Barter, M. A. 2002. Shorebirds of the Yellow Sea: Importance, threats, and conservation status. Wetlands International Global Series 9, International Wader Studies 12, Canberra, Australia.

Battley, P. F. 1997. The northward migration of arctic waders in New Zealand: departure behaviour, timing, and possible migration routes of Red Knots and Bar-tailed Godwits from Farewell Spit, north-west Nelson. Emu 97:108-120.

Gill, R. E., Jr., T. Piersma, G. Hufford, R. Servranckx, and A. Riegen. 2005. Crossing the ultimate ecological barrier: evidence for an 11,000-km-long nonstop flight from Alaska to New Zealand and eastern Australia by Bar-tailed Godwits. Condor 107:1-20.

McCaffery, B., and R. Gill. 2001. Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica). In The Birds of North America, No. 581 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Wilson, J. R, and M. A. Barter. 1998. Identification of potentially important staging areas of "long jump" migration waders in the east Asian-Australasian flyway during northward migration. Stilt 32:16-27.

Distribution map of Bar-tailed Godwit

Ranking Score: 14.0 (With the inclusion of fecal sampling, the ease of sampling would change from 2 to 3, and the overall score would rise to 15)

Asian H5N1 ranking criteria for Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica.

Total of partial
contact with Asia1
Contact with
known "hot spot"2
Habitat used in
Pop. in Alaska4
Can samples be
Entire pop. nests w. and n. Alaska & stages c.e. Asia (Yellow Sea, Korea, Japan) in spring; southward migration direct across Pacific
On migration stops in central e. Asia (Yellow Sea, Korea, Japan)
Est. at 120,000, but 2005 census efforts accounted for <50,000
Could be difficult to obtain target number
Image of Bar-tailed Godwit, photo by R. Gill