Will the Bar-tailed Godwit overwinter?

Aaron Maizlish

I’ve been hoping the 1st-year Emeryville Bar-tailed Godwit will stick
around for the winter, although at first I didn’t think the odds were
good. But there he was this morning, on Day 35, in his usual spot among
the Marbled Godwits and Willets, looking even more relaxed and less
skittish than when he was first spotted on October 31st. If a Bar-tailed
Godwit is ever going to overwinter, this seems like a good candidate.

The historical record for Bar-tailed Godwit in California (51 accepted
records) shows several fall records that stayed in place for about a
month. The longest was a 2009 Orange County bird that stayed from 10/31 to
1/12. None have ever overwintered in Northern California.

The Emeryville godwit is the expected subspecies L. l. baueri that breeds
in Alaska and Chukotka and winters in Australia and New Zealand (per Joe
Morlan). This is the subspecies that is hardwired to make the incredible
nonstop 7,000 mile journey over open ocean every fall from the Bering Sea
to New Zealand, burning off about half of their body weight in the
process. Nome is only 3,000 miles from San Francisco – so based on that
alone I would have assumed that the bird would still have the energy (fat
reserves) to continue on southward – although of course we have no idea how
long its actual circuitous route was that led him here. On the other
hand, Emeryville seems to be a welcoming wintering spot with lots of food
and Marbled cousins, so I hope he makes it through and perhaps even
imprints this journey for future migrations.

Aaron Maizlish

San Francisco and Emeryville