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A photo of a Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus)
Short-billed Dowitcher

Short-billed Dowitcher

Limnodromus griseus

The Short-billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus griseus, presents as a medium-sized, rather robust shorebird with a long bill, belonging to the family Scolopacidae. Adults exhibit a dark brown upper body with a reddish undercarriage, while their tails are adorned with a black and white barred pattern. Their legs are tinged with a yellowish hue, and during the winter, their plumage transitions to a predominantly grey coloration.

Identification Tips

To identify the Short-billed Dowitcher, look for the distinctive rapid probing action, reminiscent of a sewing machine, as it forages in the mud. The bird's bill length can be misleading due to overlap with its congener, the Long-billed Dowitcher. Vocalizations are a key differentiator, with the Short-billed Dowitcher's calls being more mellow. The three subspecies exhibit slight variations in plumage, particularly in the belly and flank patterns.

Habitat

This species is versatile in its choice of habitats, ranging from the tundra in the north to ponds and mudflats in the south. During the breeding season, they favor bogs, tidal marshes, mudflats, or forest clearings below the tree line.

Distribution

The Short-billed Dowitcher breeds in northern North America, with its range extending from Alaska and Yukon through to central and eastern Canada. It is a strong migrant, moving to the southern United States and as far as Brazil for the winter. It is more commonly observed near ocean coasts during migration and is an extremely rare vagrant in western Europe.

Behaviour

This species is known for its migratory nature, vacating breeding areas during the snow-bound months. It is also recognized for its unique foraging behavior, probing shallow waters or wet mud for food.

Song & Calls

The Short-billed Dowitcher's call is notably more mellow than that of the Long-billed Dowitcher and serves as a useful tool for identification, especially when discerning the challenging adult plumages.

Breeding

Nesting on the ground, usually near water, the Short-billed Dowitcher's nest is a shallow depression lined with fine grasses, twigs, and leaves. Both sexes incubate the olive-buff to brown eggs for about 21 days. The downy juveniles are precocial, leaving the nest shortly after hatching, with the male often tending to the chicks as the female departs.

Similar Species

The Long-billed Dowitcher is the species most similar to the Short-billed Dowitcher, with considerable overlap in bill length. However, the two can be distinguished by their vocalizations and subtle differences in body shape and plumage, particularly in adults.

Diet and Feeding

The diet consists mainly of insects, mollusks, crustaceans, and marine worms, with some plant material also consumed. The Short-billed Dowitcher forages by probing in shallow water or on wet mud.

Conservation status

The Short-billed Dowitcher is currently listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, indicating that it is not at immediate risk of population decline or habitat loss at a global scale.

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