Species with known long-term changes in abundance and distribution enable exploring the role of newly accessible sites in population regulation. In Western Europe, the Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa islandica is one of the few wintering shorebirds with increasing populations. The French coasts comprise a major wintering site within its global wintering area, with several thousand individuals at some sites. Nevertheless, the role and importance of French sites in general distribution patterns of the species remain unclear, especially as its hunting was legal there until 2008. In contrast, recent increases in protected areas in France (from 4,000 ha in 1973 to 28,000 ha in 2005) offer new safe sites and suitable habitats for the species. In this study, we assessed the numbers and distribution of Black-tailed Godwits along the coasts of Western France. The main wintering sites in France are progressively occupied from August, reaching peak occupation in late autumn or early winter although few of the ten sites listed showed similar patterns of monthly variations in the distribution of Godwit numbers. France welcomes c. 28% of the total L. l. islandica population in mid-winter over the period 2003–2007. Numbers declined steadily from the base year (1977) until 1991, then progressively increased, reaching a maximum in 2010 (c. 27,000 individuals). The creation of Nature Reserves throughout the 1990s probably contributed to the increasing number of Godwits in France, with new accessible sites visited and occupied intensively during the period of population increase. The clearly contrasting phenologies between the British Isles and France suggest that most of the individuals first arrive in the United Kingdom after the breeding season, and then some of the birds move to southern sites in either France or Iberia, while very few birds fly directly to France from Iceland.
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Vol. 48 • No. 2