Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica in Alaska: revisiting population estimates from the staging grounds


255 – 264

1 December 21

Daniel R. Ruthrauff, Zachary M. Pohlen, Heather M. Wilson, James A. Johnson


Daniel R. Ruthrauff1
U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center, 4210 University Drive, Anchorage, AK 99508, USA


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Bar-tailed Godwits Limosa lapponica baueri breed in Alaska and spend the nonbreeding season primarily in eastern Australia and New Zealand. Long-term declines spurred recent surveys at nonbreeding sites that yielded a revised population estimate of ~126,000 godwits. We conducted aerial surveys for Bar-tailed Godwits in 2018 and 2019 at pre-migratory staging sites in western Alaska. Counts from similar surveys in 1997 accorded with counts of baueri from the nonbreeding range. Instead of relying on observer estimates of flock sizes, we enumerated 97% of our survey totals using digital photography. Our survey results differed markedly between 2018 (39,751) and 2019 (100,926), differences that reflected a relatively late autumn survey period in 2018, when some godwits were likely to have left the area, compared to 2019. In contrast to the 1997 surveys, we found few Bar-tailed Godwits at estuaries on the Alaska Peninsula. However, we counted nearly 93,000 godwits (~92% of survey total) along ~60 km of coast at the Kuskokwim River Delta in 2019, a value constituting nearly three-quarters of the subspecies’ current population estimate. Our survey totals for 2019 were in agreement with contemporaneous counts at austral nonbreeding sites, demonstrating how aerial surveys from Alaska can provide useful insights into counts conducted elsewhere in the subspecies’ range. When combined with measures of reproductive output, estimates of seasonal survival, and dedicated studies of the movement and survival of juvenile godwits, future surveys from Alaska can further contribute to efforts to determine mechanisms of population changes in baueri Bar-tailed Godwits.