A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Among our most common large sandpipers, Marbled Godwit is found on tidal mudflats, along coastal beaches, and in estuaries. Probably most easily observed in Sonoma County at Bodega Bay. Usually not seen inland. Most of our birds arrive around mid-July, but may be present earlier (the bird above was photographed in the first week of July). Usually present in large numbers in appropriate habitat by mid-August. Most have left by the end of April, but some linger. Has been noted in the county in all months of the year. Most sparse in June. We usually see Marbled Godwit in its less colorful winter (or non-breeding) plumage (photos below). Sometimes solitary, but most often in groups, and sometimes in groups of several hundred birds--or even a thousand or more. Often in mixed flocks with Willet, Dunlin, Dowitchers, and other shorebirds.

Easily recognized by its slightly upturned, black-tipped pinkish bill. Our only large shorebird with a two-toned bill. In breeding plumage (photo above), look for the "marbled" back and wings in warm browns ranging from almost beige to cinnamon, to nearly black and for barring on the breast. Overall impression is a warm tweedy brown. Winter birds are a fairly plain, pale, reddish-brown underneath and become paler overall (photo below); less distinctly barred or marbled, particularly on the underparts. Note dark eyeline (mostly in front of the eye) and paler streak just above, present in all plumages, but facial contrast usually increases in breeding plumage. Bill color may be less intense in breeding plumage and more orange than pink.

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 53

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 223

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 174

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, pg. 186

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 118

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 219-220

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 151

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 163

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 186

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 210-241 (general notes on shorebird ID), p. 222

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, p. 106-107, 110

O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson, The Shorebird Guide, 2006, p. 119-122

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 30

Paulson, Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide, 2005, pp. 190-192

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, pp. 142, 144

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 138, 156

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 130

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 159

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 251

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 141

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Marbled Godwit



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Marbled Godwit, Bodega Bay,

Marbled Godwit in breeding plumage, Bodega Bay, July 6, 2011

Marbled Godwits (May 26, 2014, Santa Cruz County). Foreground bird is in non-breeding plumage. Note pale, unbarred breast, plain face. Second bird is in breeding plumage. Note more distinct barring, barring on breast, strong facial contrast, less color in bill

Marbled Godwits, Bodega Bay, April 1, 2010 (with Dunlin and small sandpipers at lower left). Note dark eyeline in front of eye, paler area above; slightly upturned, two-toned bill

Marbled Godwit

Limosa fedoa

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated July 19, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County