Short-Billed Dowitcher

Limnodromus griseus

Short-Billed and Long-Billed Dowitchers are very difficult to distinguish in the field. Both are known for the “sewing machine” action they exhibit while feeding. Their ‘flight call’ that is most reliable means to determine which dowitcher you’ve seen. The notes of the Short-Billed have been described as more mellow than the Long-Billed Dowitcher. Habitat preference is sometimes used as a guideline, but there can be some overlap. The Short-Billed favors beaches and mud flats, whereas the Long-Billed favors grassy fresh water areas.

When not breeding in central Canada, the Hudson Bay or southern Alaska, these birds migrate to and from as far south as coastal California, Mexico, Central America and northern South America. They rarely stray far from the coast in winter. Science recognises three subspecies of Short-Billed Dowitcher. There are Limnodromus griseus griseus (summer breeder in northern Quebec, Limnodromus griseus hendersoni (summer breeder in north central Canada), and Limnodromus griseus caurinus (summer breeder in southern Alaska and southern Yukon).

Most of my Short-Billed Dowitcher meetings have been on the Oregon and California coasts, especially in South San Diego Bay, but in the spring of 2020 I took a three month trip to Texas. While visiting South Padre Island I found a few of these shorebirds at a shallow wetland by the Convention Center. There I also met Semipalmated and Stilt Sandpipers, birds I had not expected to encounter so intimately. I will remember that day for a long time.

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