[Oversea] Satellite-tagged Bar-tailed Godwits on the move

Satellite-tagged Bar-tailed Godwits on the move

Satellite-tagged Bar-tailed Godwits on the move!

In an attempt to discover the pathways and stopover sites used by Bar-tailed Godwits as they move between New Zealand (NZ) and Alaska, biologists from the USA and NZ recently satellite-tagged a number of birds on the non-breeding grounds in New Zealand. This is part of a research program headed by Bob Gill of the US Geological Survey (USGS) and Nils Warnock of PRBO Conservation Science (California, USA) looking at movements of large shorebirds around the Pacific Basin. In February 2007 Bob, Nils, Dan Mulcahy (USGS vet) and Nils’ son Noah joined Phil Battley (then at Auckland University, now at Massey University) in the North Island and Rob Schuckard (NZ Wader Study Group) in the South Island in a highly successful catching and tagging trip (ably assisted by bird vet Brett Gartrell from Massey University, NZWSG and Ornithological Society of NZ volunteers). Then the waiting began – would the equipment work, when would the birds leave? Would they make stopovers between here and the Yellow Sea? But now the waiting is over – the birds have started to migrate!

At the time of writing, seven birds are in the air heading, passing by northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. Anyone interested can learn more about the project at and track the birds’ progress at  In addition to individual maps, if you have Google Earth downloaded on your computer you can use that to take a more interactive look at the data.

This is the first attempt to directly track godwits on the their northward migration. While we know that most birds use the Yellow Sea region, how they get there from NZ, and how they behave when migrating from Asia to Alaska, are big unknowns. Even once birds are in Asia, do they refuel at one site or move northwards during their stays? Hopefully all will be revealed shortly!

Most of the birds have a large black flag with white letters and numbers (e.g. E5, Y7) on the left tibia, though some have colourbands. If you find that one of these birds has landed at your local estuary, please track it down for us! We’d love to know how it’s getting on and what it looks like then. The birds can often be noticed by their antenna, which will protrude out behind the bird. It may sound like a needle in a haystack, but it’s not impossible to find them.

Phil Battley
Ecology Group
Massey University
New Zealand