Long Billed Dowitcher

Long Billed Dowitcher, Vancouver Island, BC

There are many Long-Billed Dowitchers that visit the Pacific Northwest and outer islands during the summer months. This bird is very similar in appearance to the short-billed Dowitcher. Both birds are medium to large shorebirds. In breeding plumage, they are reddish underneath and mottled brown above. In-flight, they show a pale trailing edge on their wings and a distinctive white blaze up their backs, which easily identifies them as Dowitchers.

The distinction between the two species is not as simple. The female of both species has a longer bill than the male, and the bill of the female short-billed is the same length as that of the male Long-Billed, so bill length can be confusing. The Long-Billed in breeding plumage usually has some barring rather than spotting on the side of its breast in front of the wing. Still, it’s tough in the field to get them right.

The short-billed is usually spotted. The bellies of these birds are the best way to identify them, the long-billed belly is usually reddish all the way back, while the short-billed often has some white on its belly.

The juvenile short-billed is brighter than the long-billed, with light edging on its feathers. The short-billed juvenile has bright edging and internal markings on the flight feathers. The long-billed juvenile is drabber and darker than the short-billed. Non-breeding plumage is very difficult to distinguish. Range, habitat, and vocalizations should all be used to help distinguish between these two species.

On the breeding grounds, the Long-billed Dowitcher will eat insects and insect larvae. On mudflats, they also eat mollusks, crustaceans, marine worms, and other aquatic invertebrates.

Long Billed Dowitcher, Vancouver Island, BC
Long-Billed Dowitcher, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo By Robert Logan

Long-Billed Dowitchers usually nest on the ground near water. The nest itself is a fairly deep scrape in a clump of moss or grass, lined with grass. The bottom of the nest is often damp. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs for up to 22 days. The young leave the nest within a day of hatching and find their own food. Both parents help tend the young at first, but the female may abandon the group soon after they hatch. The male will stay with the young until they are ready to fledge.

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