Living Bird Magazine
Short-billed DowitcherLimnodromus griseus
- ORDER: Charadriiformes
- FAMILY: Scolopacidae
In breeding plumage, Short-billed Dowitchers are lovely orange, brown, and golden shorebirds with chunky bodies and very long bills (despite the name). Look for them in wetlands across North America, from coastal mudflats to sewage ponds and flooded fields. Like the very similar Long-billed Dowitcher, it probes for food by rhythmically inserting the bill straight up and down like a sewing machine needle at work. On tundra breeding grounds, males perform flight displays on quivering wings, delivering a grating, bubbly song.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Short-billed Dowitchers are conspicuous, widespread shorebirds that are relatively easy to find during migration and in winter. In coastal areas, look for them in mudflats, tidal wetlands, or shallow freshwater impoundments. They roost in flocks during high tide and often during lowest tide, preferring to feed in open mudflats during falling and rising tides, when only a few inches of water covers the bottom. Inland, they favor similar wetland environments but also frequent flooded fields (including sod farms) and sewage treatment areas with muddy margins.
- Agujeta Gris (Spanish)
- Bécassin roux (French)
- Cool Facts
- Sometimes bird names just seem wrong: it only takes one look at a Short-billed Dowitcher to notice it’s not a short-billed shorebird! The name is meant to distinguish it from the Long-billed Dowitcher, but it’s only a subtle difference. Female dowitchers have longer bills than males, so if you see one with an absurdly long-looking bill, it’s probably a female Long-billed. But in general, it’s much more useful to listen to dowitchers than to look at their bills to tell them apart.
- 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.” Hunters and naturalists in the colonial era also knew dowitchers as red-breasted snipe and brownback.
- Despite the abundance of dowitchers over much of the continent, it was not until the 1930s that scientists began to understand that there were two species of dowitchers in North America.
- Unlike the Long-billed Dowitcher, Short-billed Dowitchers migrate in stages, first moving to intermediate areas to complete their molt, then moving on to their ultimate wintering areas. This strategy is called “molt migration.”
- The Short-billed Dowitcher’s nest and eggs eluded discovery until 1906, and even that information was overlooked for a long while because they were attributed to the Long-billed Dowitcher. The nesting grounds of the eastern subspecies (griseus) of Short-billed Dowitcher were not discovered until the late 1950s.
- Although both sexes share incubation of the eggs, only the male takes care of the young once they hatch.
- The oldest recorded Short-billed Dowitcher was at least 13 years, 11 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Delaware.