Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)

Photo by Scott Franke Marbled Godwit by Scott Franke


Population Information

There are currently no broad-scale projects designed to identify population size or monitor changes within shorebird populations (Brown et al. 2001). The North American population estimate is 171,500 (Morrison et al. 2006).

Life History

Habitat Selection

In the prairies of northern U.S. and southern Canada, the Marbled Godwit nests in sparsely to moderately vegetated landscapes and generally avoids tall, dense cover. Elsewhere in its breeding range, it nests within emergent vegetation of freshwater and coastal marshes and wet tundra habitats (Gratto-Trevor 2000). In Wisconsin it is a rare to uncommon migrant in a variety of wetland habitats, including emergent marshes, lake shorelines, sandy beaches, and mudflats (Robbins 1991, Gratto-Trevor 2000).

Habitat Availability

Although Wisconsin is not part of the Marbled Godwit’s main migratory route, individuals occur annually in the state. Stopover opportunities for this uncommon migrant have been reduced as a result of wetland loss, tiling and draining of agricultural fields, and dredging and diking of rivers. Prior to Euro-American settlement, wetlands occupied an estimated four million hectares of the total fourteen million hectares of Wisconsin’s land area. Today, 53% (2.1 million hectares) of these wetland habitats remain (WDNR 2003) and conditions at these sites can be extremely variable and highly dependent on precipitation and hydrology patterns (Szalay et al. 2000). Furthermore, exotic species (e.g., purple loosestrife, zebra mussel, carp) and industrial effluents have the potential to reduce invertebrate food resources at these sites (WDNR 2005). Man-made impoundments, such as sewage ponds and stock ponds, often provide stable food resources as do wildlife refuges and other state protected lands.

Population Concerns

Marbled Godwit populations experienced precipitous declines during the market hunting era but have slowly recovered after regulatory protections was established in 1918 by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (Gratto-Trevor 2000). Today, the North American population estimate is 171,500 individuals (Morrison et al. 2006). Although there are historic breeding records for Wisconsin, there is no evidence that the Marbled Godwit was ever common in the state (Robbins 1991). Major threats include the conversion of grassland nesting habitat to agricultural crops and the broad-scale loss and degradation of wetland complexes (Gratto-Trevor 2000).

Recommended Management

Preventing habitat destruction and minimizing factors that compromise the maintenance of invertebrate populations are important management considerations. The continuation of wetland management, protection, and restoration efforts such as the Wetlands Reserve Program, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, and North American Wetland Conservation Act will benefit this and other waterbird species. Wetland restoration efforts should create complexes of seasonal and semipermanent wetlands within areas that will increase overall wetland connectivity (Knapp 2001). Management actions (e.g., disking and flooding, control of invasive wetland plants, periodic, slow drawdown) that create mosaics of mudflats and shallow water areas will provide foraging habitat for Marbled Godwits and other migrant shorebirds (Eldridge 1992). Managed wetland drawdowns should coincide with shorebird migration but should be staggered across units to extend habitat and food resource availability throughout the entire migratory period (Helmers 1992). Conservation and management efforts for this species should be focused in the following Wisconsin ecological landscapes: Superior Coastal Plain and Western Prairie (WDNR 2005).

Research Needs

Although research needs for Marbled Godwits are significant, of primary importance is the identification of population limiting factors (Brown et al. 2001). In particular, studies of breeding success and adult and juvenile survival in different habitat types, especially native versus tame and cultivated grasslands, are warranted (Gratto-Trevor 2000). Improved survey methods and an institutional capacity for monitoring shorebirds also is urgently needed (Brown et al. 2001). A state assessment of the distribution, abundance, conditions, and ownership of wetlands and other important shorebird habitats also would further management efforts and guide future restoration projects (Szalay et al. 2000). More information on the dynamics of migration patterns is warranted, including how populations move among sites and why (Brown et al. 2001). In Wisconsin, comparative studies on the feeding ecologies of migrant shorebirds would help determine how coexisting species and their prey react to different wetland management regimes and habitat conditions. Color-banding individuals at stopover sites may help to determine length of stay, refueling capacity, impacts of disturbance, and important habitat features associated with these sites (Davis and Smith 1998, Szalay et al. 2000, Brown et al. 2001). Finally, basic information on the Marbled Godwit breeding biology is lacking and warrants more study (Gratto-Trevor 2000).

Information Sources


Contact Information

Kreitinger, K., Y. Steele and A. Paulios, editors. 2013.
The Wisconsin All-bird Conservation Plan, Version 2.0. Wisconsin Bird Conservation Initiative.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Madison, WI.

Website by J Davis Web Design