1. During migratory stopovers, animals are under strong time stress and need to maximize intake rates. We examine how foragers react to resource depletion by studying the foraging ecology and foraging site selection of black-tailed godwits Limosa l. limosa staging in rice fields during their northward migration stopover (January–March 2007).
2. We analysed godwit abundance and foraging behaviour, sampled the availability of rice in the fields and used the functional response model to predict the giving-up density (GUD) of rice kernels when godwits should give up a rice field. Sightings of individually colour-marked birds were used to verify whether individuals moving between rice fields confirmed the predicted GUD.
3. Black-tailed godwit intake rates at different rice densities fitted Holling’s functional response curve. The predicted GUD of rice necessary to balance allometric estimates of daily energy expenditure (DEE) and measured time budgets were confirmed by GUD measured in the field.
4. Individually marked birds moved towards rice fields with higher rather than lower rice densities more often than randomly expected. These birds increased the measured intake rates after this move.
5. Godwit foraging caused a decrease in the rice density of individual fields during the stopover period. Despite this, overall intake rates remained constant as godwits reacted to resource depletion by moving to a new foraging site as soon as their intake rate falls below the required levels to achieve DEE.