Short-Billed Dowitcher

Limnodromus griseus
Range Map

Short-Billed and Long-Billed Dowitchers are very difficult to distinguish in the field. We know both birds for the “sewing machine” action they exhibit while feeding. Their ‘flight call’ is the most reliable means to determine which dowitcher you’ve seen. Some observers describe the notes of the Short-Billed as more mellow than the Long-Billed Dowitcher. We sometimes use habitat preference as a guideline, but there can be some overlap. The Short-Billed favors beaches and mud flats, whereas the Long-Billed favors grassy freshwater 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:

  • L. g. griseus is a summer breeder in northern Quebec,
  • L. g. hendersoni is a summer breeder in north central Canada
  • L. g. caurinus is a 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, and in 2021 I stayed even longer. 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 those meetings for a long time.

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