This is the Black-tailed godwit in its winter plumage, a delicate combination of white below and pale beige and grey above, with just a hint of pink from the soft autumn light.
The Black-tailed godwit used to be much more numerous in Britain, with a strong breeding population. But not any more. Now, although as many as 40,000 birds come from Iceland to over-winter on these isles, just 60 pairs breed here.
The Back from the Brink project is trying to change that terrifying statistic. By monitoring the nests of existing birds, by protecting them from predators through the installation of electric fences, by providing more areas where the birds can breed, by collecting eggs from at-risk nests and hand-rearing them, the project hopes to ensure Black-tailed godwits have a future in Britain.
The birds I saw recently at RSPB Lodmoor are almost certainly birds that have bred in Iceland but they all look the same. They are large wading birds, with long beaks they use to probe the mud for snails, worms and insects – the birds I was watching must’ve been hungry as I managed to take a lot of photos with their heads under water! Their scientific name, Limosa limosa, reflects their love of mud – limosa comes from the Latin limus, meaning mud, so these godwits are doubly muddy.
Interestingly, when researching this post I found out that the female Black-tailed godwits have longer beaks than the males, which means they don’t compete for food – a fascinating evolutionary adaption.