Bar-Tailed Godwit; Kuaka (Limosa lapponica)

Arctic migrant.

 

The bar-tailed godwit breeds in Siberia and Alaska and travels all the way around the world to spend the Arctic winter on southern hemisphere shores before returning. One radio-tagged bird was shown to have travelled over 29,000 km on her migration. Most years the Manawatu Estuary hosts about 300 birds. They are best seen from the Dawick St viewing platform at high tide, roosting on the sandspit, and can also be seen feeding on the mudflats at low tide. Bar-tailed godwits are only seen in the summer half of the year, since they spend the northern summer breeding in the Arctic. They usually start arriving in late September and have left by May.

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The bar-tailed godwit's non-breeding plumage is a mottled dull brown and white on the upperparts, with dull white underparts. The rump and tail are barred brown and white, hence the name. In breeding plumage the males' underparts become chestnut red instead of white. The females are larger and have longer beaks. The long, slightly upturned bill is at least 1.5 times the length of the head (2 times the length, in females), and is pale pink at the base, shading to black at the tip. The legs are a dark grey. Bar-tailed godwits form flocks. They feed by probing into the mud with their beak in search of crustaceans, molluscs, and worms, moving across the mudflats following the waterline as the tide falls.