Bird of the Week: Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher
Limnodromus scolopaceus

by Lindsey Hernandez

It’s the time of year for dowitchers in Central Texas. The Long-billed Dowitcher is a gregarious and distinct shorebird that can be found along the shores of rivers, lakes, ponds and even puddles of Central Texas in great numbers in early spring. If you miss the larger flocks of spring, the quirky bird may be spotted in lesser numbers throughout the year.

The breeding adult front-heavy shorebird, bright cinnamon below and darker brown above, with a long bill – twice the length of its head. However, the female has the longer bill, the male’s bill is generally the same length as the Short-billed Dowitcher.

In general, bill length is not a very useful way to separate the two species. The September/October issue of the American Birding Association’s magazine Birding has an article, Advances in the Field Identification of North American Dowitchers, that goes into great detail on how to distinguish the Short- and Long- billed Dowitchers.

The Long-billed Dowitcher uses its long bill by probing it deeply into sand and mud searching for invertebrates to eat in a distinctive sewing machine-like feeding behavior and often calls while it feeds. The Dowitcher’s diet is mainly aquatic invertebrates, but it varies depending on the climate and season. Long-billed Dowitchers have been known to eat insects and their larvae, including many flies, beetles, as well as mollusks, marine worms, and crustaceans. At times, may feed heavily on seeds of grasses, bulrushes, pondweeds, and other plants.

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.

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.

Featured Photo by Tom Koerner  – USFWS

Sources include All About Birds, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and Audubon Bird Guide.