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Marbled Godwit

Limosa fedoa
This is a large and highly varied group of birds that do not have many outward similarities. Most are water birds that feed on invertebrates or small aquatic creatures. The order is well represented in Washington, with seven families:
This large and diverse family of shorebirds is made up mostly of northern breeders that migrate long distances. Their highly migratory nature leads them astray fairly frequently, and rarities often show up outside their normal range. Many of these mostly coastal birds forage in relation to the tides, rather than the time of day. They use a variety of foraging techniques, but the most common techniques are picking food from the ground or water, or probing into wet sand or mud. Those that probe generally have sensitive bills that open at the tips. Most members of this group eat small invertebrates. Many make dramatic, aerial display-flights during courtship. Nesting practices vary, but both parents typically help raise the young. Clutch size is usually four, and both parents generally incubate. The young are precocial and leave the nest within a day of the hatching of the last chick. Most feed themselves, although the parents generally tend the young for a varying period of time. The female typically abandons the group first, leaving the male to care for the young until they are independent.
Uncommon migrant and winter coast. Rare east.
  • Species of Concern

General Description

Marbled Godwits are large shorebirds with slightly upturned bills. They are mottled brown with cinnamon underwings that are distinctive in flight. In winter, they are plain underneath, but during the breeding season they have dark barring on their breasts and bellies.


They nest in native prairie habitats: wet meadows and grassy areas near water. During migration and winter, they are coastal, foraging on mudflats, salt marshes, estuaries, and coastal pools.


Marbled Godwits are commonly seen in flocks with Whimbrels and Long-billed Curlews, both large and brown like the Marbled Godwit. The Marbled Godwit moves slowly, probing for food under the mud with its sensitive bill. It often inserts its entire bill into the mud, and its head is totally submerged at times.


In summer, Marbled Godwits eat insects, roots, and seeds. During migration, they may forage almost exclusively on tubers. In coastal areas, they eat mollusks, crustaceans, and other aquatic creatures that live in the sand and mud.


Marbled Godwits form loose colonies without obvious territorial boundaries. To attract a female, the male performs a high, circling flight display, followed by a steep dive. The male selects a nest site in a dry spot with short grass and starts a shallow scrape. If the female approves it, both will add grass, and sometimes a canopy of grass is arched over the nest. Both parents incubate the four eggs for 24 to 26 days. The young leave the nest soon after hatching and find their own food. Both parents protect and tend the young for the first 15 to 26 days, after which the female usually leaves. The male stays with the young until they can fly.

Migration Status

Most Marbled Godwits winter in coastal California or Mexico, and some range as far as South America. They migrate in flocks, with juveniles following a few weeks behind the adults. Birds migrate south through Washington in late August through mid-September, and return to the breeding grounds in April through early May.

Conservation Status

Marbled Godwits breed in Canada and the interior and north-central area of the United States. The Canadian Wildlife Service estimates the population at 171,500 birds. They were common in the 1800s, but were over-hunted in the early 1900s. Protection from hunting has helped the population rebound, but the destruction of grassland breeding habitat now limits the population.

When and Where to Find in Washington

Marbled Godwits are most likely to be seen in protected estuaries along the outer coast, from Grays Harbor south, from April to early May, and from July into October. Birds seen later in the fall, from September to October, are usually juveniles. Large flocks often feed on the golf course in Ocean Shores (Grays Harbor County) in the spring. A flock also winters regularly at Tokeland in Willapa Bay (Pacific County). Other possible sites are Blaine (Whatcom County) and Sequim (Clallam County).

Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
Pacific Northwest CoastCCCCURUCCCCC
North Cascades
West Cascades
East Cascades
Canadian Rockies
Blue Mountains
Columbia Plateau RR

Washington Range Map

North American Range Map

North America map legend

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List
Yellow ListEarly Warning

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern