Birds – Marbled Godwit

(Limosa fedoa)


Length—16 to 22 inches; largest of the shore birds except the long-billed curlew.

Male and Female—General impression of plumage pale, dull chestnut red barred and varied with black. Head and neck pale buff streaked with black; entire upper parts reddish buff, irregularly barred with black or dusky; throat white; rest of under parts pale reddish buff, the strongest shade under wings; wavy dark brown lines on all feathers except on centre of abdomen, which is pale buff. Long bill, curving slightly upward, flesh colored at base, blackening near the tip; long legs, ashy black. Female larger. Immature birds are similar, but lack most of the brown lines on under parts.

Range—Temperate North America; nesting in the interior chiefly from the upper Mississippi region north to the Saskatchewan; wintering 1n Cuba, Central and South America ; rare on Atlantic coast.

Season—Chiefly a spring and autumn migrant in United States; May; August to November.

Conspicuous by its size and coloration among the waders, the great marbled godwit might be confused only with the long-billed curlew at a distance where the slight curve upward of the godwit’s bill and the pronounced downward curve of the curlew’s could not be noted. It is not the intention of the godwit to give anyone a near view of either plumage or bill. The most stealthy intruder on its domains—salt or fresh water shores, marshes, and prairie lands—startles it to wing; its loud, whistled notes sound the alarm to other marlins hidden among the tall sedges, and the entire flock flies off at an easy, steady pace, not rapid, yet not to be overtaken afoot. A beautiful posture, common to the plovers, curlews, terns, and some other birds, is struck just as they alight. Raising the tips of the wings till they meet high above the back, the marlins suggest the favorite attitude of angels shown by the early Italian painters.

Devoted to their companions, as most birds of this order are, the godwits lose all shyness and caution when some members of the flock that have been wounded by the gunner, cry out for help. Unwilling to leave the place, and hovering round and round the spot where a dead or dying comrade lies, they seem to forget their fear of men and guns, now replaced by a sympathy that risks life itself. Just so they hover about a nest and cry out sharply in the greatest distress when it is approached, until one feels ashamed to torment them by taking a peep at the four clay colored eggs, spotted, blotched, and scrawled over with grayish brown, where they lie in a grass lined depression of the ground. The nests are by no means always near water; several seen in Minnesota were in dry prairie land.

The marlin feels along the shore somewhat as an avocet does, its sensitive bill thrust forward almost at a horizontal, as touch aids sight in the search for worms, snails, small crustaceans, larvae, and such food as may be picked off the surface or probed for as the bird walks along. Suddenly it will stop, thrust its bill into the mud or sand up to the nostrils, and, snipe fashion, feel about for a worm that has buried itself, but not escaped. Standing on one long leg, the other somehow concealed under the plumage, the neck so drawn in it seems to be missing from the marlin’s anatomy, the bill held at a horizontal—this is a characteristic attitude whether the bird be standing knee deep in the water, or among the prairie grass.

The Hudsonian Godwit, Ring-tailed Marlin, White-rumped, Rose-breasted, or Red-breasted Godwit (Limosa haemastica), while it resembles the preceding in habits, differs from it in length, which is about fifteen inches, and in plumage, which is as follows: Upper parts black or dusky; the head and neck streaked with buff, the back barred or mottled with it; upper tail coverts white (conspicuous in flight), the lateral coverts tipped or barred with black; the tail black, with a broad white base and narrow white tip; throat buff streaked with dusky; the under parts chestnut red barred with black, and sometimes tipped with white. This bird, not so rare on the Atlantic coast as its relative, is nevertheless not common either there or elsewhere in the United States.