Operation Godwit is an international association of people studying the Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa islandica. The aim of the project is to unravel the mysteries of the life cycle of this iconic shorebird. This is done by carrying out fieldwork in different countries and by following movements of individually colour-ringed birds. The project relies on bird watchers and interested people reporting sightings of the colour ringed godwits. The wader ringing team at Stanny have been involved in this project for a number of years now. The Alde estuary holds many Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit during the winter months with a peak in late winter when they are joined by other birds coming from more southerly estuaries in preparation for their flight north to Iceland.
The theme of this co-operative international study is to link what the birds do on the wintering and breeding grounds in order to understand the factors that regulate the population size of a migratory bird species. Some of the questions the project is trying to find answers for are below. Some of these questions have been answered while most still require more research.
• How big is the population?
• Why is the population increasing at present?
• What routes do the birds take between and within countries?
• Are individuals faithful to breeding and wintering areas and, if so, what factors influence faithfulness?
• What determines site selection and habitat quality on wintering and breeding grounds?
• Do birds wintering on more favourable sites arrive earlier on the breeding grounds?
• Do earlier arrivals breed more successfully?
• Do early breeders and their offspring have an advantage on the wintering grounds?
Further goals of the International Godwit Study are:
• To use the scientific network and research to facilitate conservation of coastal ecosystems and migratory birds, through public education and awareness raising.
• To encourage as many people as possible to get involved and enjoy this exciting work.
Why use colour rings to study the godwits?
As all Black-tailed Godwits look the same to us if we want to find out more about their lives and needs we have to be able to identify them individually. On of the best and safest ways of doing this is by placing a unique combination of coloured plastic rings on their legs. Because Godwits are big birds with long legs the colour combinations can be read with binoculars or a telescope without having to catch the bird again. The fact that they can fly between Ireland and Iceland and rear a family each year shows that colour rings do not harm the birds.