Allie Hayser

Shorebird Technician, Georgia Bight Shorebird Conservation Initiative

Last week, our partners with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Tim Keyes and Sam Murray, were conducting an International Shorebird Survey out in the Ossabaw Sound along the Georgia Coast and saw a shorebird that hasn’t been sighted in the area before! This shorebird, a Bar-Tailed Godwit, looked similar to Marbled Godwits but was visibly smaller and had more gray streaking on its back with very white underparts. Marbled Godwits have a more brown-cinnamon tint on their underparts with a marbled brown back.

Bar-Tailed Godwits are champions of long-distance migrations, as far as 8,425 miles, and have been reported to fly up to 11 days straight without stopping. They can reduce their digestive organs and carry the greatest fat stores of any shorebirds studied. Rob Clay, Vice President of Flyways at Manomet, speculates that this Bar-Tailed Godwit subspecies could be from the small wintering population that seems to be establishing in Northeast Brazil. They winter in West Africa and breed in northern Scandinavia and western Siberia.

Allie Hayser with team of local birders on a recent excursion to find the Georgia Bar Tailed Godwit Photo: Manomet/Allie Hayser.

I journeyed out with a team of local birders to find and document this Bar-Tailed Godwit. The team consisted of Bob Zaremba, Pam Vercellone-Smith, Pierre Howard, Mark McShane, and Kyle Sheffield, captain and co-owner of Georgia Coast Charters on Tybee Island. It didn’t take long to spot them: as soon as we pulled up to the well-known shorebird habitat, called Ogeechee Bar, they spotted a flock of Marbled Godwits on the sandbar facing the ocean’s edge. Scanning the flock with our scopes, the Bar-Tailed Godwit’s color and size stood out among the rest.

The tide was coming in fast, and the flock flew to the closest tide pool that was forming and started foraging intently. The Bar-Tail Godwit was observed rushing through smaller flocks of Sanderlings, Dunlins, and Marbled Godwits to get to food resources

On this expedition, they prioritized giving this bird, and the hundreds of others that were feeding and roosting on Ogeechee Bar, plenty of space. The most important thing when trying to photograph or view any exciting shorebird is making sure that we don’t disturb them as they find food and rest: a good practice no matter where you are birding.

Well-known shorebird habitat called Ogeechee Bar. Photo: Manomet/Allie Hayser.
A flock of Marbled Godwits on Ogeechee Bar, facing the ocean’s edge. Photo: Manomet/Allie Hayser.

  • You can check out their eBird list for the outing that day here.
  • Learn more about the Bar-Tailed Godwit and its range here, as well as its migration map.
  • Read more about Manomet’s Georgia Bight Shorebird Conservation Initiative here and if you’re interested, follow the Georgia Shorebird Alliance.

Learn more about Manomet’s International Shorebird Survey here.

McCaffery, B. J. and R. E. Gill (2020).Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.