Status: Fairly common regular spring migrant central and west, uncommon east. Rare regular breeder west. Rare regular fall migrant west, rare casual elsewhere.
Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM15300, 10 May 1908 Dorey Lake, Cherry Co.
Taxonomy: Two subspecies are recognized, beringiae of Alaska and fedoa of central and south-central Canada and north-central United States (Gill and Donsker 2017). Nebraska breeders are presumed fedoa.
Changes Since 2000: All but one of the breeding records have occurred since 2000. Whether this reflects previously-undiscovered breeding birds in Nebraska or an expansion of the South Dakota breeding range is unknown.
Spring: Mar 29, Apr 2,5 <<<>>> May 27, 28, 30
Migration begins about the second week of Apr and highest counts are in the short period 22-30 Apr. A later date was of one near Bancroft, Cuming Co 2-3 Jun 2017.
Marbled Godwit has an unusual “criss-cross” migration pattern in the mid-continent of North America (Olsen et al 2014). Using satellite telemetry, Olson et al (2014) clarified migration patterns of godwits from breeding populations in the western USA and Canada and at James Bay, northeast Canada. Godwits wintering on the southern Atlantic Coast migrated northwestward across eastern Nebraska in spring and summered in North and South Dakota (and presumably Nebraska). Since arrival in North and South Dakota is tightly-timed 15-22 Apr (Higgins et al 1979), passage through Nebraska of these breeders would occur in or just before this period. Peak movement in Nebraska occurs 22-25 Apr, however, suggestive of larger numbers passing through the state to the northern Great Plains breeding range from coastal southern California and northwest Mexico (Olsen et al 2014) perhaps 10 days after those heading for the Dakotas. Indeed, arrival on breeding areas in Saskatchewan and Alberta is in the last week of Apr and the first half of May (Gratto-Trevor 2020). The small James Bay breeding population of around 2000 migrated northeastward from wintering areas in southern California and northwest Mexico (Olson et al 2014). Far fewer godwits occur in Nebraska in May than in Apr, although there is a small increase noticeable 10-20 May; these may be straggling immature non-breeders, or, perhaps more likely, migrants to the James Bay breeding area. Possible examples of the latter were the 25 at Jack Sinn WMA, Lancaster Co 18 May 1997 and eight at Valentine NWR, 9 May 2018.
- High counts: 900-1100 near Niobrara, Knox Co 23-25 Apr 2013 (part of a large concentration of shorebirds there), 264 at Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 22 Apr 2000, 134 in Keith Co on 24 Apr 1999, 100 at Swanson Reservoir SRA, Hitchcock Co 27 Apr 2019, and 94 near Spalding, Greeley Co 25 Apr 2013.
Summer: Prior to 1990 reports of breeding in Nebraska were few. A report of nesting near present-day Columbus 9 Jun 1820 was reported by Thomas Say (James 1972), and “a godwit involved in homemaking” was at a pond in Madison Co in 1876 (Ducey 1988). Bruner et al (1904) thought it “almost certain” to breed in the state, but provided no evidence.
Recent breeding records began in 1990, when adults were defending young in Dawes Co (Grzybowski 1990). The only subsequent report from Dawes Co is of an aggressive pair 20 Jun 2006 (Mollhoff 2006). In 2008, two territorial pairs were 12-15 miles southeast of Alliance, Box Butte Co 20 Jun. There are several reports from Sheridan and Garden Cos; in 2003, a territorial pair was seen near Smith Lake WMA, Sheridan Co 15 May and later performed distraction displays there (Mollhoff 2005a). An adult was flushed from a nest with three eggs in southern Sheridan Co in 2005 (Mollhoff 2005b), and a pair with fledglings was in southern Sheridan Co 13 Jun 2006 (Mollhoff 2006). Two were aggressively territorial in Sheridan Co 23 May 2010. One was photographed north of Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co 2 Jul 2016. In Cherry Co, two pairs, one in agitated territorial flight, were near Wood Lake, Cherry Co 17 Jun 2006 (Mollhoff 2006), and a pair was in a wet meadow hayfield in northern Cherry Co 22 Jun 2008. Possible breeding birds were singles northwest of Valentine NWR, Cherry Co 18 Jun 2016.
Fall: Jun 12, 12, 13 <<<>>> Oct 7, 21, 24
There are earlier reports of singles 5 Jun 2005 at both Harvard WPA, Clay Co and Lake McConaughy, one was in Wayne Co 5 Jun 2016, six were at Lake McConaughy and one at Crescent Lake NWR 7 Jun 2003, and one was near Santee, Knox Co 9 Jun 2011.
Migrants are found as early as late Jun, when flocks become evident, and most have moved through by the end of Aug. In contrast to spring, fall migrants are uncommon east of the Panhandle and Keith Co; there are only 34 reports east of there, 18 of these in the eastern Rainwater Basin 5 Jun-24 Oct (Jorgensen 2012). Based on Olson et al (2014), it is plausible that fall migration through Nebraska from breeding areas in the Dakotas is non-stop to the Atlantic Coast, resulting in few easterly sightings. Sightings in western Nebraska in fall conceivably represent migrants from the James Bay breeding population, which migrates somewhat later (Olson et al 2014).
- High counts: 186 at Lake McConaughy 20 Jun 2004, 52 at Smith Lake, Morrill Co 5 Jul 2020, and 40 at Lake McConaughy 13 Aug 1986 (Rosche 1994).
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)
WPA: Waterfowl Production Area (Federal)
Bruner, L., R.H. Wolcott, and M.H. Swenk. 1904. A preliminary review of the birds of Nebraska, with synopses. Klopp and Bartlett, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.
Ducey, J.E. 1988. Nebraska birds, breeding status and distribution. Simmons-Boardman Books, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.
Gill, F., and D. Donsker (Eds). 2017. IOC World Bird List (v 7.3), accessed 30 January 2018.
Gratto-Trevor, C.L. 2020. Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.margod.01
Grzybowski, J.A. 1990. Southern Great Plains Region. American Birds 44: 1152-1154.
Higgins, K.F., L.M. Kirsch, M.R. Ryan, and R.B. Renken. 1979. Some ecological aspects of Marbled Godwits and Willets in North Dakota. Prairie Naturalist 11: 114-118.
James, E. 1972. Account of an expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains under the command of Major Stephen H. Long, from the notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, and other gentlemen of the exploring party. Imprint Society, Barre, Massachusetts, USA.
Jorgensen, J.G. 2012. Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
Mollhoff, W.J. 2005a. The 2003-2004 Nebraska nest report. NBR 73: 15-19.
Mollhoff, W.J. 2005b. The 2005 Nebraska nest report. NBR 73: 119-123.
Mollhoff, W.J. 2006. The 2006 Nebraska nest report. NBR 74: 142-147.
Olson, B.E., K.A. Sullivan, and A.H. Farmer. 2014. Marbled Godwit migration characterized with satellite telemetry. Condor 116: 185-194.
Rosche, R.C. 1994. Birds of the Lake McConaughy area and the North Platte River valley, Nebraska. Published by the author, Chadron, Nebraska, USA.
Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 2020. Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org
Birds of Nebraska – Online
Updated 8 Aug 2020