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marbled godwit

Limosa fedoa

What do they look like?

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)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    285 to 454 g
    10.04 to 16.00 oz
  • Range length
    42 to 48 cm
    16.54 to 18.90 in
  • Range wingspan
    74 to 78 cm
    29.13 to 30.71 in

Where do they live?

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)

What kind of habitat do they need?

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)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • temporary pools
  • coastal
  • Range elevation
    0 to 100 m
    0.00 to 328.08 ft

How do they reproduce?

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)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Marbled godwits breed once per year.
  • Breeding season
    Marbled godwits breed from May to August.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 5
  • Range time to hatching
    24 to 26 days
  • Range time to independence
    15 to 26 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    unknown (low) years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    unknown (low) years

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)

  • Parental Investment
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • male

How long do they live?

Marbled godwits live a long time. The longest life of a marbled godwit in the wild was 30 years. (Vuilleumier, 2009)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    20 to 30 years

How do they behave?

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)

Home Range

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)

How do they communicate with each other?

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)

What do they eat?

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)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic or marine worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • Plant Foods
  • roots and tubers
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

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)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

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)

Species (or larger taxonomic groups) that are mutualists with this species
Commensal or parasitic species (or larger taxonomic groups) that use this species as a host
  • nematodes (Skrjabinoclava kristscheri)
  • nematodes (Ancyracanthopsis winegardi)
  • nematodes (Sobolevicephalus lichtenfelsi)
  • nematodes (Viktoracana limosae)
  • nematodes (Viktoracana capillaris)
  • nematodes (Stellocaronema skrjabiniin)
  • mites (Austromenopon limosae)
  • mites (Actornithophilus limosae)
  • mites (Carduiceps clayae)
  • mites (Lunaceps clayae)
  • mites (Rotundiceps cordatus)
  • mites (Saemundssonia)

Do they cause problems?

There are no known negative economic impacts caused by marbled godwits.

How do they interact with us?

Birders and tourists like to watch marbled godwits. Speical Godwit Days feature lectures, field trips, boat trips and workshops about marbled godwits.

Are they endangered?

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)


Brooks Kennedy (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.


Armitage, A., S. Jensen, J. Yoon, R. Ambrose. 2007. Wintering Shorebird Assemblages and Behavior in Restored Tidal Wetlands in Southern California. Restoration ecology, Vol. 15, No. 1: pp. 139–148. Accessed February 08, 2012 at

Cornell University, 2011. "Marbled godwit" (On-line). All about birds. Accessed April 25, 2012 at

Croneweth, S. 2012. "Species Profile: Marbled Godwit" (On-line). Eons. Accessed April 24, 2012 at

Dechant, J., M. Sondreal, D. Johnson, L. Igl, C. Goldade. 2001. Effects of Management Practices on Grassland Birds: Marbled Godwit. Grassland Ecosystem Initiative, 1: 1-8. Accessed April 27, 2012 at

Floyd, T. 2008. Smithsonian field guide to the birds of north america. New york, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Gratto, T. 2000. Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa). Journal Birds of North America Online, issue 492: p. 24. Accessed August 02, 2012 at

Kantrud, H., R. Stewart. 1984. Ecological Distribution and Crude Density of Breeding Birds on Prairie Wetlands. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 48(2): 426-437.

Long, L., J. Ralph. 2001. Dynamics of habitat use by shorebirds in estaurine and agruciultural habitats in norhtwestern California. Wilson Bulletin, 113(1): 41-52.

Lueders, A., P. Kennedy, D. Johnson. 2006. Influences of Management Regimes on Breeding Bird Densities and Habitat in Mixed-Grass Prairie: An Example from North Dakota. Journal of Wildlife Management, 70(2): pp. 600-606. Accessed August 02, 2012 at

Myers, J. 1983. Conservation of migrating shorebirds: staging areas, geographic bottlenecks, and regional movements. Accessed (Date Unknown) at

Ryan, M., R. Renken, J. Dinsmore. 1984. Marbled Godwit Habitat Selection in the Northern Prairie Region. The Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 48, No. 4: pp. 1206-1218. Accessed August 02, 2012 at

Seattle Audubon Society, 2011. "Bird Web" (On-line). Seattle Audubon Society. Accessed April 04, 2012 at

Skagen, S., F. Knopf. 1994. Migrating shorebirds and habitat dynamics at a prarie wetland complex. Wilson Bulletin, 106(1): pp. 91-105. Accessed August 02, 2012 at

Vuilleumier, F. 2009. Birds of North America. New York, New York: DK Publishing.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Kennedy, B. 2013. "Limosa fedoa" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 18, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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