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Short-billed Dowitcher

Limnodromus griseus

Length: 11 to 12 inches Wingspan: 18 to 22 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Long dark bill, dark brownish above with buffy feather edges, pale orange or white below.  Very similar to Long-billed Dowitcher.

Short-billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus griseusThe Short-billed Dowitcher is nearly identical in appearance to its cousin, the Long-billed Dowitcher.  The Short-billed tend to prefer coastal habitats in most seasons, however, while the Long-billed prefers fresh-water habitats.  This is particularly true during the winter season, when Short-billed Dowitchers are found along coastlines from the US and Mexico, southward through Central and South America, and in the Caribbean. Some Short-billed Dowitchers do migrate through the interior of the continent, but they are not as common in South Dakota as the Long-billed Dowitcher.  Differences in call are a reliable way to tell the two species apart, but visual clues tend to be much more subtle (see identification differences below).


During breeding season, uses marshes, bogs, and lake edges in the northern conifer forests of Canada and Alaska.  During migration and winter, they strongly prefer saltwater coastal habitats, although some may migrate through the interior of the continent.


Diet varies with season, but includes insects and insect larvae, mollusks, crustaceans, marine worms, and the seeds of aquatic plants.  May feed heavily on horseshoe crab eggs during migration.


Uses its bill to probe in soft mud for food, usually while wading in shallow water, although sometimes on mud flats.

Breeding / Nesting:

Non-breeder in South Dakota. On their breeding grounds, Short-billed Dowitchers nest in marshy vegetated areas, typically with scattered cover such as small trees and shrubs, and/or thick clumps of herbaceous vegetation. Ground nesters, Short-billed Dowitchers will mold a depressing into the grasses and herbaceous vegetation, and line it with leaves, feathers, grasses, and other vegetation. The female lays 3 or 4 eggs, with both parents helping to incubate them. Incubation takes about 3 weeks. Upon hatching, the female typically leaves the family, with the male tending to the young.


Generally silent, Short-billed Dowitchers may give a mellow tu-tu-tu when flushed. They also have a soft chattering call.


 Summers in central and western Canada, and southern Alaska.  Winters along coasts of the southern half of the U.S., and points south. Given their predilection to winter along coastlines and use brackish and salt-water habitats, migration to their summer breeding grounds is also often along the coastlines, with fewer birds moving through the continent's interior. Thus, Short-billed Dowitchers are less frequent migrants in South Dakota than Long-billed Dowitchers.

Interactive eBird map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Short-billed Dowitcher sightings

Similar Species:

Short-billed Dowitchers could be confused with the following species, with the first one a particularly thorny identification challenge:

Long-billed Dowitcher 3 - Limnodromus scolopaceus Long-billed Dowitcher 6 - Limnodromus scolopaceus Wilson's Snipe - Gallinago delicata Wilson's Snipe 13 - Gallinago delicata
Long-billed Dowticher Long-billed Dowitcher Wilson's Snipe Wilson's Snipe

Conservation Status:

 Generally common throughout its normal range, with populations stable in many areas. While overall population declines are evidently occurring, the IUCN considers the Short-billed Dowitcher to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

Photo taken on May 4th, 2019 in Minnehaha County, Dakota - Terry Sohl

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Short-billed Dowitcher - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant in the eastern part of the state, rare in the west.

Additional Short-billed Dowitcher Photos
 Short-billed Dowitcher 1 - Limnodromus griseusShort-billed Dowitcher 2 - Limnodromus griseusShort-billed Dowitcher 3 - Limnodromus griseusShort-billed Dowitcher 4 - Limnodromus griseus