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From the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego, and Back Again. Thomas Johnson. By Nathan Senner. Goal: To Understand the Entire Life Cycle of the Hudsonian Godwit and to Protect Them and Their Habitats Throughout the Year . Three Stage Life Cycle. Breeding: Churchill, Manitoba. Migration.

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From the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego,

and Back Again

Thomas Johnson

By Nathan Senner


Goal: To Understand the Entire

Life Cycle of the Hudsonian Godwit

and to Protect Them and Their

Habitats Throughout the Year


Three Stage Life Cycle

Breeding: Churchill, Manitoba


Thomas Johnson

Steve Jones

Winter: Chiloe Island

Thomas Johnson


Goal: To Understand the Entire Life Cycle

Of the Hudsonian Godwit

Godwit Life Cycle:




Thomas Johnson

Steve Jones

Thomas Johnson


How Do They Do It?

Long bill for probing deep in the mud. This is pivotal for finding the high fat, high protein foods necessary to fuel their migration.

Long legs to wade through muck and water

Strong pectoral and a small size to help power their flight.

Aerodynamic wings perfect for flying both far and fast

Photos Thomas Johnson

Godwit Adaptations


Chiloe Island, Chile

Life Cycle Stage: Winter


Survivorship: How Many Birds Survive Each Year?

Fernandez-Quitanilla et al. 1986

This diagram from plants outlines the age groups present in a population of plants (young plants, mature plants, and seeds) and how many of each of them survives each year. We are doing the same thing for godwits and it tells us whether or not the population is healthy or potentially in trouble.

Chiloe Island, Chile


Cannon Netting

Photos Thomas Johnson

Chiloe Island, Chile


Thomas Johnson

We track godwit survival by resighting banded birds each year

Chiloe Island, Chile


Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

Life Cycle Stage: Breeding


How Many Chicks Are Fledged Each Summer?

Each godwit nest that we find is followed until its chicks have either died or reached the age when they can migrate to South America. This helps us to know how many new godwits are produced each year.

Shawn Billerman

Churchill, Manitoba


Capturing Adult Godwits

Thomas Johnson

Glenn Seeholzer

We also place bands and data loggers on every adult that we can capture during the breeding season. The bands will help us identify the birds the next year when we try to refind them.

Jay McGowan

Churchill, Manitoba


The Western Hemisphere

Life Cycle Stage: Migration


Where do Godwits Stop During Migration?

The Amazon?

The Andes?

The Caribbean?

How do we follow birds that fly so far?


Data Loggers!

Thomas Johnson


Breeds in Churchill, Manitoba each year

Quick stops in

Texas, Kansas,

and southern


It flew from

James Bay to

the Amazon

in five days!

6100 miles


Spends the

Winter in

Tierra del Fuego

Female “LP” Banded 6-24-08, Recaptured 6-29-09

Data Logger Results


What Do We Know?

How many godwits survive

each year? How many

godwits return to winter at

the same site each year?

Chiloe Island

How many godwit chicks

survive to fledge and

migrate each year?

Churchill, Manitoba

Where do the godwits stop

during their migration? What

habitats do they use?

Western Hemisphere


Godwit Conservation



Habitat Destruction

Industrial Pollution

Seaweed Collection

Global Climate Change

Photos by Kate Senner; Graph by Hinzman et al. 2005


Major oil and gas exploration on the Mackenzie Delta is destroying godwit


Global climate

change is rapidly

altering Arctic


Changing agricultural

practices leave less

standing water for

shorebirds in Texas

Seaweed collectors

and fish farming disturb

the godwit’s intertidal

habitat on Chiloe Island


factories pollute

the water of

Bahia Blanca

Ships servicing oil wells have

caused a number of oil spills

during the past decade near

Tierra del Fuego


Thanks to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Faucett Family Trust, Cornell University, the American Museum of Natural History, the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for helping finance this work. Thanks to Robert Rockwell and Robert Scher for their data. Thanks to Tom Johnson, Jay McGowan, Brad Walker, Shawn Billerman, and Glenn Seeholzer for their help in the field and their photographs.