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Long-billed Dowitcher Life History



Long-billed Dowitchers nest in sedge meadows in easternmost Russia, northern Alaska, and extreme northwestern Canada. They use wet meadows in lowlands and foothills that are dotted with freshwater ponds for foraging. After nesting, they move toward coastal areas and forage in small ponds, lakes, and estuaries, sometimes in saltwater environments. During migration, and in winter, Long-billed Dowitchers tend to be found more often in freshwater environments than their close relative, Short-billed Dowitcher. They most regularly use lakes, ponds, marshes, flooded fields, and sewage ponds but can also sometimes be found on river margins, tidal flats, and river mouths. Locally, as in the Great Basin, they use saline lakes and playas, and they are reported feeding on intertidal flats, at least in small numbers, on both Pacific and Atlantic coasts. They appear to prefer muddy substrate over sand for foraging and usually forage in water less than 3 inches deep, ideally about 2 inches deep.

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Aquatic invertebrates

Long-billed Dowitchers eat mostly insects and aquatic invertebrates. They probe deeply into wet, muddy or sandy substrate for invertebrates, sometimes probing so deeply that their heads are underwater. They are tactile feeders and have excellent night vision, so they often feed during hours of darkness, especially during the nonbreeding season. On the breeding grounds, they eat large quantities of midges and their larvae, beetles, caterpillars, worms of many kinds, and small crustaceans. As they move coastward, in preparation for migration, they take polychaete worms, small amphipods, and mollusks (mostly small bivalves). They eat bivalves during migration and winter as well, including amethyst gem clam, Baltic macoma clam, and overbite clam, along with worms and many tiny crustaceans such as copepods. Long-billed Dowitchers also consume small quantities of plant matter, especially seeds.

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Nest Placement


The nest is built in marsh vegetation near the edge of a small pond, usually on or at the base of a raised tussock or hummock. Whether it’s the male, female, or both sexes that choose the nest site and build the nest is unknown.

Nest Description

The nest is a deep cup set in a depression in marsh grasses or moss; it is lined with grasses, sedges, and small leaves. The interior of the cup measures about 4.5 inches across and 2.2 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-4 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.6-1.7 in (4.2-4.3 cm)
Egg Width:1.1-1.2 in (2.9-3.1 cm)
Incubation Period:21-22 days
Egg Description:Light olive-greenish or bluish with brown spotting, denser at the large end.
Condition at Hatching:Downy chicks able to walk immediately, leave nest when all are hatched. Not fed by parents.
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Relatively little is known about Long-billed Dowitchers on the breeding grounds, which lie in some of the most remote parts of the planet. They are probably monogamous and may be somewhat less aggressive than other tundra-nesting shorebirds. To mark territory and attract females, males perform a song flight, hovering about 60 feet in the air over their territory on trembling, raised wings. The appearance of a female can lead to aerial pursuit by several singing males. Both male and female defend the area around their nest, but pairs from multiple territories feed together on small ponds without conflict, and in some areas, researchers see no evidence of territoriality at all.

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Low Concern

Because of their remote breeding range, there is little information on Long-billed Dowitcher population trends. A 2012 study estimated 500,000 Long-billed Dowitchers in North America; the small Siberian nesting population appears to be expanding. Partners in Flight estimates an overall global breeding population of 500,000 and rates the species a 12 out of 20 on its Continental Concern Score, indicating it is a species of low conservation concern. The long-term losses of western wetlands probably have had negative impacts on this species, and pollution and climate change pose ongoing threats.

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Andres, B. A., P. A. Smith, R. I. G. Morrison, C. L. Gratto-Trevor, S. C. Brown, and C. A. Friis (2012). Population estimates of North American shorebirds, 2012. Wader Study Group Bulletin 119:178–194.

Lutmerding, J. A., and A. S. Love (2017). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2017.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Takekawa, John Y. and Nils D. Warnock. (2000). Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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