Living Bird Magazine
Long-billed DowitcherLimnodromus scolopaceus
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Scolopacidae
Wintering flocks of Long-billed Dowitchers are muddy gray-brown birds that match their muddy foraging sites—a far cry from the intricate black, rufous, brown, and gold brocade of breeding birds on their tundra summer homes. These tubby, long-billed shorebirds plunge their bills deep into wet mud or sand to find invertebrate food. Flocks twitter at each other while feeding—a habit that sets them apart from the otherwise very similar Short-billed Dowitcher. In northern Alaska and Siberia, males court females with effervescent song flights.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Finding dowitchers is a matter of seasonal timing and finding wetlands with the right water level—about 3 inches deep or less. Checking freshwater ponds, impoundments, reservoir edges, sewage treatment facilities, and the like will usually produce a few dowitchers in season—just check eBird bar charts to know when they pass through your area. Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers are extremely similar: the best clues are voice. If they are calling from the ground as they feed, or if you hear the diagnostic keek! call, they are Long-billed. Long-billed Dowitchers also tend to be seen more often in freshwater than in saltwater habitats.
- Agujeta Escolopácea (Spanish)
- Bécassin à long bec (French)
- Cool Facts
- The Long-billed Dowitcher is only half well-named: females usually do have a bill that is impressively longer than Short-billed Dowitchers’, but males often do not, and in general bill length is not a very useful way to separate the two species.
- The tip of a Long-billed Dowitcher’s bill has many tactile receptors called Herbst corpuscles that allow dowitchers to locate prey by touch.
- In 1950, Frank Pitelka was the first ornithologist to distinguish the Long-billed Dowitcher clearly from the three subspecies of Short-billed Dowitcher. The field identification of the dowitchers was pioneered later, by a self-taught ornithologist named Claudia P. Wilds. Although her training and career was as a linguist, Wilds studied museum specimens, spent thousands of hours photographing dowitchers, studied published articles, and corresponded with ornithologists and birders around the world to make her discoveries.
- Early American ornithologist Elliott Coues believed that the word dowitcher derived from a hunters’ name for the bird, “German snipe”—as opposed to “English snipe,” which referred to the bird we now know as Wilson’s Snipe. In Pennsylvania Dutch, an American dialect of German, “Duitscher” is the word for “German.”
- Although both sexes share incubation of the eggs, only the male takes care of the young once they hatch.
- The oldest recorded Long-billed Dowitcher was at least 8 years, 4 months old when it was found in Kansas, the same state where it had been banded.