Limosa limosa 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Aves Charadriiformes Scolopacidae

Scientific Name: Limosa limosa
Species Authority: (Linnaeus, 1758)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Black-tailed Godwit
French Barge à queue noire
Taxonomic Source(s): del Hoyo, J., Collar, N.J., Christie, D.A., Elliott, A. and Fishpool, L.D.C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions BirdLife International, Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge, UK.
Identification information: 40-44cm. Large rather graceful wader, with long bill on a relatively small head, long neck and long legs. Colour of fore-body is dull pink-chestnut in summer, paler grey-brown in winter. In flight has a striking white wing-bar and rump. Similar spp. Unmistakeable in flight but sometimes difficult to separate from L. lapponica when on ground at distance. Told from the latter by its distinctive bill structure and much leggier and more erect appearance. Voice High-pitched, nasal, rather strident calls given during breeding season, most common of which is a weeka-weeka-weeka. Characteristic call of birds in flocks is a softer kip kip... or chut chut...

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Near Threatened ver 3.1
Year Published: 2016
Date Assessed: 2016-10-01
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S. & Symes, A.
Contributor(s): Belyalova, L., Burfield, I., Garnett, S., Gill, J., Hötker, H., Krüse, H., Mischenko, A., Nagy, S. & van Dijk, A.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Khwaja, N., Mahood, S., Malpas, L., Temple, H., Ashpole, J
Although this species is widespread and has a large global population, its numbers have declined rapidly in parts of its range owing to changes in agricultural practices. Overall, the global population is estimated to be declining at such a rate that the species qualifies as Near Threatened.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species has a large discontinuous breeding range extending from Iceland to the Russian far east, with wintering populations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Australasia (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It occurs as three subspecies, L. l. islandica, L. l. limosa, and L. l. melanuroides. Subspecies islandica breeds predominantly in Iceland, with much smaller numbers in the Faeroe Islands, Shetland (United Kingdom) and the Lofoten Islands (Norway). Significant numbers of this subspecies overwinter in France (Triplet et al. 2007). Subspecies limosa breeds across a wide area extending from Western Europe and central Europe to central Asia and Asiatic Russia, as far east as the River Yenisey. The European population of this subspecies migrates south through France and Iberia to winter in West Africa (Gill et al. 2007, Oomen 2008). Subspecies melanuroides breeds in disjunct populations in Mongolia, northern China, Siberia (Russia) and the Russian Far East. The species migrates across a broad front and has wintering grounds extending from the Republic of Ireland to Australia, encompassing the Mediterranean, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of the Middle East, India, Indochina, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Melanesia (Dutson 2011). The global population is estimated at 614,000-809,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2016). 

Population trends vary in different parts of its range. There have been large and well-documented declines in mainland Europe, e.g. in the Netherlands, where the population decreased dramatically from 120,000-135,000 pairs in 1969 and 85,000-100,000 pairs in 1989-1991, to just 46,000-62,000 in 2009 (Tucker and Heath 1994,  BirdLife International 2004a, EU Technical Report 19 2007, Oomen 2008, Höglund et al. 2009) and 35,200-59,800 pairs in 2008-2011 (BirdLife International 2015). Declines have been reported on the species's Australian wintering grounds (S. Garnett in litt. 2005), which hold c. 50% of the wintering population of L. l. melanuroides (Watkins 1993). However, in central Asia the breeding population appears to be stable or fluctuating (L. Belyalova in litt. 2005), and in Iceland numbers are increasing, although at c.50,000-75,000 individuals, this subpopulation is only a small part of the global population (Gill et al. 2007, Wetlands International in press). Similarly, in West Africa, there have been notable declines in some countries (e.g. Senegal and Morocco), while trends elsewhere (Mali, Chad and north Cameroon) have remained stable (Lourenço and Piersma 2008b). A recent analysis based on published literature, survey data and expert opinions from throughout the species's range suggests that, overall, the global population may have declined at a rate approaching 30% over 15 years leading up to 2005 (I. Burfield in litt. 2005).

Countries occurrence:
Afghanistan; Albania; Algeria; Armenia (Armenia); Australia; Austria; Azerbaijan; Bahrain; Bangladesh; Belarus; Belgium; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Botswana; Brunei Darussalam; Bulgaria; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cambodia; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; China; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Djibouti; Egypt; Eritrea; Estonia; Ethiopia; Faroe Islands; Finland; France; Gambia; Georgia; Germany; Ghana; Gibraltar; Greece; Guam; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Hong Kong; Hungary; Iceland; India; Indonesia; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Iraq; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Jordan; Kazakhstan; Kenya; Kiribati; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Kuwait; Kyrgyzstan; Latvia; Lebanon; Liberia; Libya; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of; Malaysia; Mali; Malta; Marshall Islands; Mauritania; Micronesia, Federated States of ; Moldova; Mongolia; Montenegro; Morocco; Mozambique; Myanmar; Nepal; Netherlands; New Caledonia; Niger; Nigeria; Northern Mariana Islands; Norway; Oman; Pakistan; Palau; Palestinian Territory, Occupied; Papua New Guinea; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Qatar; Romania; Russian Federation; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Serbia (Serbia); Sierra Leone; Singapore; Slovakia; Slovenia; Solomon Islands; Somalia; South Sudan; Spain; Sri Lanka; Sudan; Sweden; Switzerland; Syrian Arab Republic; Taiwan, Province of China; Tajikistan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Timor-Leste; Togo; Tunisia; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Uganda; Ukraine; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; Uzbekistan; Vanuatu; Viet Nam; Western Sahara; Yemen; Zambia
Canada; Cape Verde; Comoros; Gabon; Greenland; Madagascar; Malawi; Maldives; Namibia; New Zealand; Puerto Rico; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Pierre and Miquelon; Seychelles; South Africa; Svalbard and Jan Mayen; Trinidad and Tobago; United States (Georgia - Native); Virgin Islands, U.S.; Zimbabwe
Present - origin uncertain:
Andorra; Benin; Lao People's Democratic Republic
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Yes
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):NoEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:30300000
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):UnknownExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):No
Number of Locations:11-100Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:No
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:The global population is estimated at 614,000-809,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2016). The population is estimated to number 102,000-149,000 pairs in Europe (including 25,000 pairs in Iceland) (BirdLife International 2015); 25,000-100,000 in west-central Asia; 150,000 in central Asia and Siberia (Asian Waterbird Census unpublished data); 160,000 in the rest of Asia and Australia.

Trend Justification:  There is still some degree of uncertainty about the size and trend of some of the sub-populations. Nevertheless, looking at 'best' and 'worse' case scenarios, the available information suggests that the global population has probably declined by between 14% and 33% over the past 15 years (=3 generations). Assuming that the 'actual' trend lies somewhere between these extremes, it seems likely that the global population may have declined by c.25% since 1990. Thus the species's trend is currently best placed in the 20-29% band. This information is provided by I. Burfield in litt (2005), with reference to a spreadsheet of detailed calculations based on best-worse case scenarios using population estimates from Wetlands International (2006), and trend data from Birds in Europe 2, the Asian Waterbird Census, Wetlands International and forum contributors. In Europe the population size is estimated to be decreasing by 30-49% in 25.8 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015).
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:NoPopulation severely fragmented:No
No. of subpopulations:2-100Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:NoAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Behaviour This species is highly gregarious and migrates on a broad front, making long-distance flights,often overland between relatively few staging and wintering areas (del Hoyo et al. 1996). It breeds from April to mid-June in loose, semi-colonial groups of up to 3 pairs per ha (Gunnarsson et al. 2006). Non-breeding birds remain in flocks, often near to the breeding colonies. As soon as the young fledge, breeding birds begin to congregate in loose flocks of up to 500 individuals (Cramp et al. 1983). The species migrates southwards between late-June and October. During the autumn migration it may roost in flocks of tens of thousands at favoured sites (del Hoyo et al. 1996), and many adults pause in north Morocco in July to moult. Huge flocks occur at some wintering sites, particularly in the floodplains of Lake Chad. Elsewhere (e.g. Morocco) flocks are smaller (Cramp et al. 1983). The return passage occurs between February and April (del Hoyo et al. 1996), and birds arrive at the breeding grounds in groups of 5-30 individuals (Johnsgard 1981). Many one-year-old birds remain in the wintering range during the summer. During the winter and migration the species usually forages gregariously (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Habitat Breeding In its breeding range it mostly inhabits areas with high grass and soft soil (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Johnsgard 1981), occasionally using sandy areas. Its preferred habitats include cattle pastures, hayfields (Johnsgard 1981), lowland wet grasslands, grassy marshland, raised bogs and moorland, lake margins and damp grassy depressions in steppes (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Subspecies islandica shows a distinct preference for large patches of dwarf-birch bog and marsh, particularly with abundant sedge-pools (del Hoyo et al. 1996, Gunnarsson et al. 2006). Extensive farmland habitats are of critical importance for breeding Western European populations (del Hoyo et al. 1996). After the young have fledged, adults and fledgelings often move to secondary habitat which more closely resembles that of their non-breeding range, including wet damp areas around fish-ponds and sewage farms, tidal marshes, mud flats and salt-water lagoons (Cramp et al. 1983, Tucker and Heath 1994). Non-breeding Subspecies limosa tends to winter in freshwater habitats, including swampy lake shores, pools, flooded grassland and irrigated rice fields. Subspecies islandica and melanuroides, however, often winter in brackish habitats (del Hoyo et al. 1996) such as sheltered estuaries and lagoons with large intertidal mudflats (Johnsgard 1981), sandy beaches, salt-marshes and salt-flats (del Hoyo et al. 1996). Despite these general differences there is considerable overlap in wintering habitat between sympatric populations of subspecies limosa and islandica (Various 2007).  Seasonally-flooded grassland is a critical habitat for the birds wintering in Ireland (Hayhow 2008). Birds on passage in Iberia make much use of rice fields (Lourenço et al. 2010). Diet Its diet consists of adult and larval insects (especially beetles), annelid and polychaete worms, molluscs, ragworms, crustaceans, spiders, fish eggs, and the spawn and tadpoles of frogs (Johnsgard 1981, del Hoyo et al. 1996). On the breeding grounds grasshoppers and other orthopterans are often prevalent in the diet (Johnsgard 1981). Particularly during the winter and on migration it will also take plant material including berries, seeds and rice grains (Cramp et al. 1983, del Hoyo et al. 1996). On its wintering grounds in Portugal, the bivalve Scrobicularia plana has been found to represent its primary food source (Moreira 1994); in the salinas of Spain, it mainly feeds on chironomid larvae (Estrella and Masero 2010). Breeding site The nest is placed on the ground in short, often luxurious vegetation (Johnsgard 1981, Cramp et al. 1983, del Hoyo et al. 1996). It consists of a shallow scrape 12-15cm in diameter, lined with a thick mat of stem grass, leaves and other available vegetation (Cramp et al. 1983). Breeding birds show a high degree of nest site fidelity (del Hoyo et al. 1996) and some degree of natal philopatry (Kruk et al. 1998).

Systems:Terrestrial; Freshwater; Marine
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):8.6
Movement patterns:Full Migrant
Congregatory:Congregatory (and dispersive)

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Loss of nesting habitat owing to wetland drainage and agricultural intensification, and conversely, abandonment, are the most significant threats (A. Mischenko in litt. 2007, Kentie et al. 2013). Detrimental activities include the conversion of wet meadows to arable land, increased fertilisation and drainage of grassland (Roodbergen and Teunissen 2014), artificial flooding of nesting habitats, earlier and more frequent cutting as farmers adapt to climate change, spring burning, overgrowing by scrub, land claiming by businesses and developers, the construction of roads and parks, and disturbance by walkers (Tucker and Heath 1994, A. van Dijk in litt. 2005,  A. Mischenko in litt. 2007, Hayhow 2008, Oomen 2008, Holm and Laursen 2009, Kleijn et al. 2010, Kentie et al. 2013). Increasing populations of predators to possibly unnatural levels is a significant cause of mortality in the Netherlands, exacerbated by intensive farming reducing available cover for the species (Schekkerman et al. 2009). On intensively grazed pastures, trampling is a major cause of nest loss, and a switch to monoculture on arable land reduces the supply of insects that the species feeds on (Oomen 2008). In some areas, grassland turnover from 'natural, flower-rich, diverse and wet' to silage monoculture leads to a loss of nests with eggs and chicks due to mowing and starvation of chicks due to a lack of food (Schekkerman and Beintema 2007). A study in the Netherlands suggests that climate change has driven an advance in agricultural activities to the detriment of this species (Kleijnet al. 2010). 

Habitat fragmentation may cause particular problems for this species, which nests in dispersed colonies and sub-colonies as protection against predators and may be unlikely to breed successfully in small areas of habitat. The planned development of a new airport near Lisbon is likely to have negative implications on an important site for migratory birds (Gill et al. 2007, Masero et al. 2011). Hunting has been another significant threat, although France has now followed the rest of the European Union (EU) in implementing a five-year ban on hunting of the species, beginning in 2008 (I. Burfield in litt. 2008), which was extended in 2013 for a further five years. Outside the EU, for example on the African wintering grounds, hunting is known to occur but its scale and impact is unknown. Water pollution is probably an issue in parts of the species's range (H. Hötker in litt. 2005), and drought in the West African wintering quarters may have had negative impacts on the mainland European population (Tucker and Heath 1994). Wetlands have been extensively drained in West Africa, for energy production, water storage and agriculture (Gill et al. 2007). The Icelandic population is potentially at risk from the policy of the Icelandic government to encourage afforestion of the lowland habitats where they breed (S. Nagy in litt. 2005).

Threats on migration include pollution, human disturbance, habitat reclamation for tidal energy plants, aquaculture ponds, land conversion for agriculture, urban expansion and agricultural intensification at rice paddies. Invasive plants may also impose on wintering habitat in Australia (Garnett et al. 2011). Climate change may be having an effect (Oomen 2008). Juvenile birds which select good wintering sites also select good breeding sites (Gunnarsson et al. 2005), therefore maintaining high quality wintering sites is crucial to raising productivity on breeding grounds and slowing the rate of decline. There is a marked decrease in the density of breeding birds near to roads, particularly those with heavy traffic (van der Zande et al. 1980, Reijnen et al. 1996). Natal philopatry means that a decrease in local recruitment could prove catastrophic for individual breeding sites (Kruk et al. 1998). A recent study shows that recruiters from good quality habitats disperse to low quality habitats that act as sinks and so these individuals are considered 'lost' to the population. This has repercussions for the effectiveness of agri-environment measures (Kentie et al. 2015).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
EU Birds Directive Annex II. An EU management plan for 2007-2009 was adopted, and an AEWA action plan replaced it at the end of 2008 (Anon. 2008). Intensive management of breeding habitat has been carried out in some Western European countries (H. Hötker in litt. 2005), and a number of agri-environment schemes focus on this species, although results have been mixed (Musters et al. 2001, S. Nagy in litt. 2005, A. Mischenko in litt. 2007, Verhulst et al. 2007). It occurs in a number of protected areas.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Obtain more quantitative data on status, population trends and conservation requirements outside Europe. Carry out research on survival, recruitment, breeding and migration (Gill et al. 2007). Critically evaluate the effectiveness of current conservation action. In the EU, use a mixture of agri-environment schemes, direct payments to wader-friendly farmers (Musters et al. 2001) and large reserves to secure protection and appropriate management of breeding habitat; the coverage of agri-environment schemes in Europe should be increased (Kleijn et al. 2010) and increases in groundwater depth should be prioritised as an outcome (Verhulst et al. 2007). Establish nature reserves on important breeding sites throughout the species's range. Manage existing reserves appropriately: prescriptions include avoiding drainage of existing wet meadows, raising water tables where necessary, low-level use of organic fertiliser, low intensity grazing, late mowing, and prevention of succession to bushy vegetation; winter flooding is sometimes recommended but may reduce numbers of invertebrate prey (Gunnarsson et al. 2005). On intensively farmed land, maintenance of unfertilised field margins has been shown to have positive effects (Oosterveld et al. 2009). Ensure that migratory staging posts and winter feeding habitats and roosts are conserved and monitored, and knowledge of them is improved (Estrella and Masero 2010). Designate a special protection area at Extremadura's rice fields, which is a key stopover site (Masero et al. 2011). Manage artificial habitats appropriately, e.g. maintain low water levels in salinas such that they are available to foraging godwits (Estrella and Masero 2010), and block drainage to retain water in Iberian rice fields (Lourenço and Piersma 2008a). Protect important Yellow Sea tidal flats in China and South Korea. Engage with governments and local people throughout its migration routes. Effectively enforce the EU-wide ban on hunting until there is clear evidence that the population has returned to a favourable conservation status. Safeguard habitats in West Africa and Iberia, perhaps by offering support to rice producers (Gill et al. 2007). Collaborate with farmers and hunters, carrying out environmental education and outreach work where appropriate. Prevent afforestation of lowland breeding habitat in Iceland. Prevent a loss of key breeding areas due to abandonment of grasslands and meadows in east Europe and Russian Far East. Monitor human disturbance as a threat. Restore wetland sites in Australia (Garnett et al. 2011). Ensure recognition as a protected animal throughout range (Hancock 2008).

Citation: BirdLife International. 2016. Limosa limosa. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22693150A90105356. . Downloaded on 23 April 2017.
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