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Doñana, Spain, March, 2023.

The Bird

The Black-Tailed Godwit is a large, long-legged and long-billed shorebird which can be found at most East Atlantic Flyway migration hotspots at different times of the year. During the breeding season it can be recognised by its orange neck and chest, instead in winter it has a dull grey plumage all over. Its half-pink and half-black straight beak makes it also easily spottable from the majority of other shorebirds. Watch out for the Bar-Tailed Godwit thought, which has its tail “barred”, rather than fully black like the Black-Tailed Godwit.


On the romantic side, it seems like they are prevalently monogamous, and a study of the Icelandic population showed that despite spending winter apart, pairs are reunited on their breeding grounds within an average of three days of each other.


This bird often migrates overland in flocks by long flights between relatively few stop sites, but the impressive aspect of it is the breeding range. 

There are three races which cover the majority of the northern hemisphere when non-breeding, and some parts of the southern hemisphere when breeding. Two of these can be found on the East Atlantic Flyway, one called limosa winters in part in southern Europe, and southwest Asia but mainly in Africa, to then spend the breeding season in northern Europe and West Siberia. The other race, islandica, breeds in Iceland and winters in Western Europe. 

The third race named melanuroides winters in south-east Asia from the Bay of Bengal to Taiwan, the Philippines and Australia.

The Sound

It has mainly three distinctive calls depending on their activity.

You can hear them mumbling while feeding and interacting with each other all year around, even though we have struggled to hear them when in February Doñana, South of Spain, maybe because they were a bit too far from us. We could hear them well thought at EVOA, Lisbon, Portugal.

- Use the Player to listen to the feeding sound. -

Its alarm call tends to have one nasal-like monotone either short or slightly longer, we’ve often heard them doing it while in flight as we were approaching a nesting area.

Use the Player to listen to the alarm call. -

The mating call, which we managed to capture towards the end of the mating season, just when breeding started, is a whistly series of tones going up-down-up.

Use the Player to listen to the call. -


During non-breeding season mudflats, tidal marshes and lake margins are common habitats where to find them feeding. Breeding takes place mostly in wet grassland with soft soil that can be probed and offers plenty of food. A high groundwater level with temporarily flooded areas at the start of the breeding season is important, together with agricultural land use and location structures with incomplete plant cover and heterogeneous grass height, which should be free of trees and shrubs. The Wadden Sea is home to many breeding Black-Tailed Godwits, where instead EVOA in Lisbon is a great feeding area.

- Use the Player to listen a full hour of ambient soundscape. -

Our Encounter

We knew about the Black-Tailed Godwit before starting the expedition in February/March 2023 from Doñana, South of Spain, but we weren’t sure when we would see it first. We arrived when it was still winter, with chilly temperatures which didn’t feel like Spain that much. Doñana is a vast wetland, and this year has been one of the worst ones because of the dramatic lack of water, of which we were aware, but not to this extent. The majority of the National Park was completely dry, leaving a few artificial lakes and rivers around it as the only water resources. Daniele Dessi, manager of the visitor centre at SEO Doñana in the western movie-like village of El Rocio advised us to visit a few locations where we could potentially find migratory birds, one of which was Brazo Del Este. This is a river with a couple of wetlands on the other side of the river Guadalquivir, a good hour and a half drive from El Rocio. We decided to go there to spend some recce days, and we found them, Black-Tailed Godwits! It was our first time seeing them, a couple of small flocks of around 30 individuals each, not close enough for us to hear their calls that often. We left Doñana with great pictures, but no sounds, they were relatively quiet.


The situation changed at the following migration hotspot, EVOA in Lisbon, Portugal, where there were more groups of Black-Tailed Godwits in April getting ready to migrate north possibly towards the Wadden Sea, as Andreia Silva, manager from EVOA, told us. This was our last chance to record them and capture some good pictures of their first stage of breeding plumage before they would migrate north, not sure if we would meet them again as we were worried we would arrive too late at the Wadden Sea to see them. 

Early wake-ups, many days leaving the mics in strategic spots, and lots of failures, but in the end, we managed to record them, success!


It was finished though, as when we arrived at the Wadden Sea, Klaus Gunther from the Schutzstation Wattenmeer told us there were a few breeding quite close to the road. Triggered by curiosity to see them in their full breeding plumage and hear them active around their nests.

We couldn’t be happier to see them the closest we could get, literally a few meters away from the road. They were mostly alarm-calling because of the proximity to cars and people stopping by, but they would literally sit on wood posts a couple of steps away from the cars.

Black-Tailed Godwits in their full glory, they chose quite a busy location to breed, but it was so nice to get up close to them after so many attempts over the past months. This is the first time we could really experience the migration first-hand, following the same species from South to North. The next step where we’re supposed to meet them is in West Africa, will we actually?


10% of the profit from the Black-Tailed Godwit postcard and print goes to SEO/Birdlife Donana, where these pictures, videos and sounds have been taken from.



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