Not a member? Sign up now!
Email   Password  


Bar-tailed Godwit Updates CREDIT: Alaska Science Center

Bar-tailed Godwit Updates CREDIT: Alaska Science Center

Farewell to the godwits
Tuesday 4 March 2008, 4:50PM
By Christchurch City Council
2970 views, 1 comments


Christchurch will hold a send-off on Sunday evening for the champions
of bird migration, the bar-tailed godwits, wishing them the best on 
their hazardous journey back to Alaska
Residents, birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts will gather at the 
Southshore Spit to farewell some 2000 godwits on the first leg of 
their two-stage journey home. It will be a quiet send-off, says Paul 
Kean of the Council's Event team, adding that thoughts of the danger 
the wee birds face will underpin the send-off event. 
"We take care not to disturb the birds as they need to conserve all 
their strength. The godwits feed, rest and conserve their energy 
during their stay with us, so it is important to leave them 
undisturbed and unstressed," says Mr Kean. 
There will also be an element of celebration - this is the first time 
in several years that Christchurch has hosted so many godwits. 
Currently, about 2465 Godwits are preparing for departure on local 
estuaries. Some 2006 Godwits were counted on the Avon-Heathcote 
Estuary in Christchurch, with another 85 at Brooklands Lagoon and 374 
at the top end of Lyttelton Harbour. 
"These are the highest numbers recorded locally for several years and 
it is hoped that the recent downward trend in numbers might 
stabilise," says Council ranger and bird expert, Andrew Crossland. The 
higher numbers offer hope for the godwits which have been steadily 
losing habitats in the Korean and Chinese coasts 
The bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica baueri) - or kuaka in the 
Maori language - stops off in Asia to rebuild strength before tackling 
the last leg to Alaska. Each of the mature fliers would have stored up 
to 500 grams of fat to fuel the non-stop, 10,000 km journey which is 
completed within eight days. The direct flights are some of the 
longest migratory bird flights ever recorded - and some of the 
The scientific community deems the dwindling population of godwits as 
a Species of High Concern and Christchurch has made the godwits its 
own by designating them the harbingers of spring, and ensuring a safe 
environment for them at the Avon-Heathcote Estuary. 
The Christ Church Cathedral bells peal for 30 minutes to announce the 
arrival of the visitors in September after a 11,000 km non-stop flight 
and the Christchurch City Council rangers and the Avon-Heathcote 
Estuary Ihutai Trust puts together a farewell event in March. 
The godwits farewell will be on site at the Southshore Spit from 6pm 
on Sunday 9th March (at the end of Rocking Horse Road- you can catch a 
Route 5 bus). Please no dogs. 
Maps available at  
Additional information 
This year, some 2006 Godwits have been counted on the Avon-Heathcote 
Estuary in Christchurch, with another 85 at Brooklands Lagoon and 374 
at the top end of Lyttelton Harbour. These are the highest numbers 
recorded locally for several years and it is hoped that the recent 
downward trend in numbers might stabilise, although this is probably 
unlikely given the huge amount of habitat that Godwits and other 
migratory wading birds have lost on the Korean and Chinese coasts. 
Once back in the Arctic the Godwits will quickly find a mate and begin 
breeding. Because the Arctic has almost 24 hours of daylight for much 
of the breeding season, the Godwits are able to pack a lot of living 
into a short window of time. Their preferred breeding habitat is 
marshy tundra, particularly within open bogs and in swamps with 
scattered, stunted trees. To claim a territory and attract a mate, 
the male Godwit performs an aerial "sky dance" , which involves 
intricate aerobatic display flights and a short song. Parts of this 
display are sometimes seen on New Zealand estuaries just prior to 
The nest is constructed on the ground and consists of a shallow bowl 
lined with a few pieces of dry vegetation and sticks. Three to four 
eggs are laid and are incubated by both parents until hatching at 
three weeks. The chicks can walk about, swim and feed themselves from 
birth but they stay close to the adults until they can fly at four 
weeks of age. Adults depart the breeding grounds earlier than the 
young and often use separate staging areas on the Alaskan coast prior 
to migration back to New Zealand. It seems that the adults and 
juvenile Godwits largely migrate separately so it seems it is instinct 
alone that brings the young Godwits to NZ on their first migration. 
New Zealand hosts 70,000 godwits each summer, but it used to be 
wintering home to 100,000. It is the same throughout the East Asian 
and Australasian flyways, where up to 85% of the shorebird populations 
are declining.


Colleen Pounsford, 8 March 2008, 5:13PM

Please what time on Sunday 9th March does the farewell to the Godwits begin ? INDEX