Physical Description

  • Large shorebird with thick belly and long legs, and pointed wings in flight.
  • Breeding adults: Light brown, cinnamon feathers with dark brown barring. A long two-toned bill, orange turning to black, slightly upturned at end. Dark brown legs.
  • Non-breeding adults: Very similar to breeding adult but have un-streaked, cinnamon coloration on bellies and underwings.
  • Juveniles: Look like non-breeding adults.


  • Breeding: breeds in central Canada, the northern Great Plains. Small breeding population in Alaska, small breeding population in James Bay, Ontario.
  • Migrating: migrates through central United States and California to wintering sites in coastal United States, Mexico, and Central America.
  • Non-breeding: winters in coastal United States, Mexico, and Central America.


  • Live in coastal mudflats, wet meadows, estuaries, prairies, pools, salt meadows, and sandy beaches.
  • Breed in short grassy areas, marshes, and flooded plains.


  • Marbled godwits nest in the ground in shortgrass prairies, often far from water.
  • Males males multiple depressions in the ground with their feet and females choose the best one to lay their eggs in.
  • The nest is often lined with lichens and grasses.
  • A clutch is 3-5 eggs that will hatch after 23-26 days of incubation.
  • The eggs are pale buff or olive with small dark brown spots.
  • The hatchlings are covered with down, can immediately open their eyes, and can walk.


  • Insects, grasshoppers, crustaceans, mollusks, marine worms, and plant tubers and seeds.
  • During migration, they eat almost exclusively plant tubers, using their long bills to clip them.


  • Raccoons and skunks.

Interesting Facts

  • Their long bill can probe into wet sand and mud, reaching deeper than other shorebirds.
  • They are often seen in huge flocks on salt meadows at high tide.

Hear a Marbled Godwit’s call

Hear a Marbled Godwit’s courtship call

Sources:; Audubon Field Guide; University of Michigan

Photo: Paula Selby