Marbled godwits are big, light brown shorebirds with long legs. Their bills turn up a little bit. Their feathers are light brown and the birds look darker on top than underneath. They look different form other birds like bar-tailed godwits because they have cinnamon brown mixed with the white underneath their wings. During the breeding season, they get dark bars on breasts and bellies. They have gray or blue-gray legs and bright pink or orange beaks. Marbled godwits are 42 to 48 cm long and weigh 285 to 454 g. Females are usually larger than males. (Gratto, 2000)
Marbled godwits live in the United States and Canada, from the West Coast to the center of the continent. In the winter, they are found from the Gulf of Mexico all they way up to Alaska. In the summer, they breed in the northern plains of the United States and in pine forests in Alaska. Smaller numbers of them also live in Alaska and in southwestern James Bay in Canada, and spend the summers there. (Gratto, 2000; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
Marbled godwits live in a larger area than any other kind of godwit. When breeding in the summer, they live in grasslands or wetlands. These are usually located in the northern prairies of the United States and Canada, where there aren't too many plants. Other habitats include ponds that dry up for part of the year, as well as farm fields. Farther north, marbled godwits live in Arctic habitats like tundra and taiga. They also are found in bogs and marshes along the coast. During the winter or the time when they are migrating, marbled godwits live in wetlands and marshes, shallow ponds, places where rivers meet the ocean, mudflats, salt marshes, and sandy beaches. (Gratto, 2000)
Marbled godwits living farther south arrive at their summer location in April or May. They form a pair that breeds together for the summer. Males attract females by performing a courtship ritual. This involves circling in flight high up in the air, and then diving down steeply. Males choose a place to nest that is dry and has short grass. They don't build very complicated nests. Females have to approve the nest, and then both of them add grass to it. Sometimes, they also add a canopy of grass over the nest. (Gratto, 2000; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
Marbled godwits breed one time each year between May and August. They group together loosely, but their groups don't have strict territories. Their nests are shallow hollows in the ground. They are lined with grasses and lichen or moss and leaves. Female marbled godwits almost always lay 4 eggs, though they can lay 3 or 5. The eggs are tan or olive green and have dark brown or purplish-gray splotches. Parents work together to keep the eggs warm, and they take 24 to 26 days to hatch. Sometimes, parents work together to attack predators so they can defend their young. When the young are born, they are covered in downy feathers. Their eyes are open, and they can walk and even try to eat right after they are born. They leave the nest after 1 to 2 days, and can fly 26 to 30 days after they hatch. (Gratto, 2000; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
Parents of marbled godwits work together to keep the eggs warm for 24 to 26 days. For the first 15 to 26 days, they protect and watch over the chicks. The mother usually leaves, but males stay with the young until they can fly. (Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
Marbled godwits live a long time. The longest life of a marbled godwit in the wild was 30 years. (Vuilleumier, 2009)
Marbled godwits spend most of their time on the ground, and can walk quickly as well as run. They migrate from summer breeding locations to winter habitats. They fly in a strong, swift, and direct way. They can also swim if they are searching for food in deep water. They spend most of their day searching for food. They can be aggressive, but this usually happens during the breeding season. Marbled godwits often group together with whimbrels and long-billed curlews, as they look for food along the shoreline. (Gratto, 2000; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
Marbled godwits have large territories where they feed and have their nests. They need the area to be big enough so that there are dry areas as well as wetlands. Most marbled godwits spend their entire lives within North America. (Croneweth, 2012; Dechant, et al., 2001)
Marbled godwits communicate by making noises, or calling. They also use body language, or physical displays, especially when choosing mates or interacting with predators. Their call is nasally, and sounds like a crowing or laughing "ah, ha" or "ahk." They have a special call they use when they enter a group of marbled godwit. This probably makes the group less likely to be aggressive. (Cornell University, 2011)
Marbled godwits change their diet depending on the time of year and place where they live. During the winter or when they are living on the coast, they eat mostly annelid worms, small bivalves, crabs, and earthworms. During the summer of while they are inland, they eat mostly insects like grasshoppers, aquatic plant tubers, leeches, and small fish. Marbled godwits move slowly while feeding. They poke around for food underneath the mud with their bill. Often, they stick their whole bill into the mud, sometimes with their whole head under water as well. (Gratto, 2000; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
Marbled godwits were hunted in the 1800’s because they lived in really flocks and were easy to hunt, and also because they are big and have flavorful meat. Today, they are eaten by raccoons and skunks when they nest close to developed areas. (Croneweth, 2012)
Marbled group together in flocks with whimbrels and long-billed curlews along shorelines while they search for food. They get infected with avian botulism. Parasites inside their bodies include roundworms only living on marbled godwits, and other roundworms that infect many shorebirds. Other kinds of roundworms that infect them are called Sobolevicephalus lichtenfelsi, Viktoracana limosae, V. capillaris, and Stellocaronema skrjabiniin. Many kinds of mites live outside their bodies that are called Austromenopon limosae, Actornithophilus limosae, Carduiceps clayae, Lunaceps clayae, Rotundiceps cordatus, Saemundssonia. (Croneweth, 2012; Gratto, 2000; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
There are no known negative economic impacts caused by marbled godwits.
Birders and tourists like to watch marbled godwits. Speical Godwit Days feature lectures, field trips, boat trips and workshops about marbled godwits.
Marbled godwits are not endangered according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but they are protected under the United States Migratory Bird Act. Scientists estimate that there are about 171,500 marbled godwits alive. Their numbers have increased since they have been protected from hunting. However, they are currently threatened by loss of wetlands, which they need for breeding and nesting sites. (Croneweth, 2012; Seattle Audubon Society, 2011)
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