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Malibu Marbled Godwits

March 22, 2020

Malibu Lagoon has hosted many sandpipers over the years. Of the world’s ninety-six species of sandpiper, SMBAS has recorded twenty-six at the lagoon, from the diminutive Least Sandpiper to the Long-billed Curlew. Among them is the very showy and reliable Marble Godwit. They are one of our favorites – not only because they are easy to identify with their large size, warm brown plumage, long dark legs and upcurved two-tone bill – but because their feeding behavior and interactions are interesting and fun to watch and they are not overly shy of humans.

Marbled Godwit (Chris Tosdevin 2-23-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Many people think of sandpipers as those little birds that run back and forth with the lapping of the waves. That bird is likely the 8″ Sanderling. But sandpipers come in many sizes, from the 5.5″ Least Sandpiper to the 25″ Far Eastern Curlew. Birders call the smallest sandpipers – those 9″ and under – “peeps,” because that’s what they all sound like: “peep peep peep.” But whatever the size or name, they’re all members of the Sandpiper family Scolopacidae.

Marbled Godwit is the largest of the world’s four species of Godwit. At 18″ from tip of bill to tip of tail, this sandpiper is second in size only to curlews, of which the 23″ Long-billed Curlew is the only one common in the lower forty-eight states.

Dragging the wing tip (Chris Tosdevin 2-23-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Marbled Godwits winter along our Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts. For their May to August breeding season, they migrate to the short-grass prairie region of North and South Dakota, northeastern Montana, southeastern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba.

Notice the tip of the lower bird’s upper bill
(Chris Tosdevin 2-23-20 Malibu Lagoon)

They have one brood per breeding season, incubating their clutch of 3 to 5 brown-spotted buff or olive eggs for 23 to 26 days. The nest is a shallow depression in the ground, often lined with soft grasses and lichen. As with nearly all ground-nesting birds, the young are precocial, born down-covered, eyes open and able to walk. After only one day in the nest they are ready to follow their parents in foraging for small fish and invertebrates of all sorts. At about three weeks of age they are ready to fly. [All About Birds]

Check the tip now. Flexible. (Chris Tosdevin 2-23-20 Malibu Lagoon)

There are four godwit species.
Black-tailed Limosa limosa, length 14.2-17.3″, (one) wing 6.6-9.4″, bill 2.9-3.9″; Old World, breeding France to China and Kamchatka Peninsula, wintering sub-Saharan Africa to India and Australia.
Hudsonian Limosa haemastica, length 14.6-16.5″, (one) wing 7.9-9.0″, bill 2.5-3.8″; New World, breeding w. Alaska to Hudson Bay, wintering s. South America.

Marbled Godwits (Grace Murayama 2-28-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Bar-tailed Limosa lapponica, length 14.6-16.1″, (one) wing 7.5-9.1″, bill 3.0-4.3″; Old World + w. Alaska, breeding high Arctic Norway to w. Alaska, wintering England to sub-Saharan Africa to India, China, Australia and New Zealand.
Marbled Godwit Limosa fedoa, length 16.5-18.9″, (one) wing 8.1-10.0″, bill 3.2-4.8″; New World, breeding range given above.
Black-tailed is rare in North America (occurring yearly in very low numbers), Bar-tailed breeds in w. Alaska in small numbers, Hudsonian is uncommon outside its central flyway breeding and migration range, Marbled is common on all coasts in winter.

Meet and greet? (Grace Murayama 2-28-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Etymology: Scolopacidae:  Latin scolopax, “the woodcock or snipe,” Latin -aceus, “resembling,” -idae suffix indicating family; thus the avian family resembling the woodcock or snipe. Godwit: origin uncertain. May be from Anglo-Saxon god, “good”; Anglo-Saxon whita, “animal,” “bird,” and more literally “good eating,” although Elliot Coues says this is too easy to be true. Limosa: Brisson. Latin limosa, “muddy,” from the habitat.

Perhaps a bit more than just friendly (Grace Murayama 2-28-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Etymology: L. fedoa (Linnaeus): origin unknown. Coues says, “The word goes back to Turner (1544) ‘Anglorum goduuittam, sive fedoam,’ and has been variously applied to godwits and some other birds before and since Linnaeus named this species Scolopax fedoa in 1758.” Newton regards it as a Latinized form of some English name of the European godwit, “now apparently lost beyond recovery.” Compare to the local Venetian (Italian) name vetola for a godwit. [Dictionary of American Bird Names, Choate; Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names, Jobling.]

One good poke deserves another (Grace Murayama 2-28-20 Malibu Lagoon)

Here’s a good mnemonic for beginning birders: The curlew’s bill “curls low.” The godwit’s bill curves up to God (or at least upwards towards where our gods have long been purported to reside).

At Malibu Lagoon, we have sighted Marbled Godwits 172 times out of 274 visits, or 63% of the time, with a total of 1964 individual birds. There are no sightings at all for June, only four occurrences (33 birds) for May and three (10 birds) for July, but all other months have sighting occurrences in the double digits. Our highest one-day count was 135 for November 26, 2017. They are reliable visitors, always a joy to see.   [Chuck Almdale]

One Comment
  1. ethanski permalink
    March 22, 2020 7:01 am

    Good article on sandpipers.

    Sent from my iPhone: No puppies or trees were harmed by this e-mail……. ….have a marvelous day!



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