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Black-tailed Godwits

Posted by Roger Riddington on Sunday 16th May 2010 | Birding in Shetland

A few pairs of Black-tailed Godwits breed in Shetland in most years, but this species is more commonly seen passing through the islands on migration, especially in autumn. Two races of Black-tailed Godwits occur in the UK, but most (or all) of those seen in Shetland are Limosa l. islandica, which breeds mainly in Iceland (with a few in northern Britain and the Faeroes). These differ from nominate limosa, which breeds in northern Europe and further east, by having shorter legs and bill, and (in breeding plumage) by darker red underparts, with coarser black bars, that extend further down the belly than on limosa. This migrant bird, photographed at Quendale in mid May, is probably a female islandica, given that the bill is rather longer than many males, and also because the red is less extensive than a typical male – although it is hard to be sure since there is a fair degree of individual variation.

Roger Riddington