Spring Dowitcher Identification

Comparison of two subspecies of the Short-billed Dowitcher at Reesor Pond in Markham with a Long-billed Dowitcher at Hillman Marsh near Point Pelee

First published in Toronto Birds Vol 3 No 5. May 2009

Jean Iron and Ron Pittaway

Photo 1. Two subspecies of Short-billed Dowitcher occur in Ontario. This is a typical nominate or eastern Limnodromus griseus griseus. It is much rarer than the interior hendersoni subspecies in photo 2 in the GTA because it breeds mainly in northern Quebec. Nominate griseus differs from hendersoni by its heavily spotted breast and the cinnamon colour is restricted mainly to the upper breast and neck. 20 May 2009, Reesor Pond, Markham, Ontario.


Photo 2. Compared to the griseus in photo 1, this hendersoni is more lightly spotted below and the cinnamon colour extends back of the legs. It suggests a Long-billed Dowitcher in photo 3, but that species is heavily spotted on the foreneck and has well-formed bars, rather than the spots of hendersoni, on the sides of breast. Caution: both Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers can have barring on the sides and flanks. 20 May 2009, Reesor Pond, Markham, Ontario.


Photo 3. The Long-billed Dowitcher is monotypic (no subspecies). The cinnamon extends to the undertail coverts and it is heavily spotted on the neck and barred on the sides. Long-billed is easily separated from the eastern griseus Short-billed Dowitcher in photo 1, which has extensive white on the belly. Separation from hendersoni is often difficult; see photo 2 and caption. 17 May 2009, Hillman Marsh Conservation Area near Point Pelee.


More photos of Short-billed Dowitchers at Hillman Marsh in May 2007: http://www.jeaniron.ca/Shorebirds/2007/sbdowitchers.htm


More photos of a Long-billed Dowitcher at Minesing Swamp on 3 May 2008: http://www.jeaniron.ca/Shorebirds/2008/lbdowitcher.htm