They have very long, black-tipped pink beaks that look like straws. In winters they are dressed in dull brown feathers with white undersides with long, nearly black legs. Their wing feathers may have dark centres. Their tails are black with white tips.
As the breeding season approaches, Their necks turn rusty-orange and black stripes appear on their belly. Their backs develop some black markings.
These are perhaps long-distance migrants.
I have seen their whole flock arrive in November and depart before April of the following year. From what I know, these birds do not breed in India and perhaps they visit India on their way to some other destination. I have also observed a small flock of possibly first year birds spending the entire year in India. Therefore, my comments are purely based on what I have seen. Internet searches have not given me much information either. Kindly feel free to correct my observations. Will be happy to know more about these long distance migrants – specially where they come from and what is their destination. They may well turn out to be the longest distance migrants.
What I saw:
I chanced upon this flock that I guess had just arrived at this waterbody. A part of the flock was resting and the rest were hungrily finding food in the shallow water. Then, even this flock went into the sleep mode. These birds are long-distance migrants and really deserve this rest. They feed by probing wet muddy soil using their long beaks like straws in a pattern of 4 pecks or more and then raising their heads to check for danger while swallowing the food. In shallow water they may place their head in the water to feed. Their preferred habitat is moist grassy areas.
Watching the entire flock fly is an amazing experience. At times it looks as if hundreds of lights are being turned off-and-on in perfect sync – their white bellies make it look like that. As if on command, the entire flock changes direction and that looks like shimmering lights.
How they preen – They dip their beaks in shallow water and use the wet tip to preen their feathers.
How they sleep – First they lift one of their legs, tuck it in their bodies and then they turn their necks and bury their beaks in their back. They then shut their eyes and are off to sleep.
Black-Tailed Godwit is a threatened bird according to IUCN.
Habitat loss is their biggest threat. The wetland area – an IBA (Important Bird Area declared by BirdLife), where I used to observe these birds has been partly taken over by the growing city. Tall buildings have come up in the near vicinity and on-going construction has virtually destroyed the entire habitat. I keep thinking how we can reverse this trend.
Earlier, they were considered game birds and large numbers were killed.
Note: The Black-Tailed Godwit has been chosen as one of the seven ‘ambassadors’ for this year’s World Migratory Bird Day. Kindly visit www.worldmigratorybirdday.org for more information and contribute to the event.