Infrequent Migrant

Long-billed dowitchers (Limnodromus scolopaceus) breed on wet hummocky tundra from Eastern Siberia to Northwestern Canada. They winter in mudflats and shallow pools along the Southern Atlantic and Pacific Coasts of North America and throughout much of Mexico. Long-billed dowitchers prefer fresh water but will frequent coastal estuaries. During winter and migration they form large flocks. Their migratory routes cover much much of North America.

Leonard and I do not often see long-billed dowitchers as they pass through. Therefore, a few days ago we were excited to see several large rafts of long-billed dowitchers as we hiked the Eagle Pole Loop at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Lassen County CA). Most of the birds were huddled and resting, we assumed they were tired from their long flights.

A monotypic species, long-billed dowitchers during the breeding season have underparts that are entirely reddish. The foreneck is heavily spotted and its sides are usually barred. The black scapulars have rufous markings. The feathers providing the markings have white tips or edges when fresh. In winter long-billed dowitchers are a dull grey.

On the tundra the long-billed dowitcher’s diet is mostly insects and their larvae. During migration and winter mollusks, worms and crustaceans are eaten. Long-billed dowitchers may at times also feed on the seeds of grasses and various pond weeds.

The common name, dowitcher, was first recorded in English in the 1830s and probably is of Iroquoian origin. A willet (Tringa semipalmata) has joined the long-billed dowitchers in the upper photograph.

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