Dowitcher Variation and Identification


Near the end of May, I was able to photograph two Dowitchers at Swan Lake. At the time I remember noticing that one bird seemed darker than the other, but I think I attributed it to different stages in their transition from winter to breeding plumage and did not really think much about it beyond that. Today while looking at them again, I realized that the darker one has white feather tips and minimal rusty margins, while the other lighter bird has more substantial rusty margins that go to the feather tips with much less white.

Note mostly black feathers with white tips. Little-to-no rusty colored side margins.
Note breeding plumage feathers with much more rusty colored sections, especially along the margin. No white feather tips.

These differences made me wonder if this is normal variation within Short-billed Dowitchers or if one of them (presumably the darker one) is a Long-billed Dowitcher. Any help would be appreciated.

1 thought on “Dowitcher Variation and Identification”

  1. Hi,

    Of the two dowitchers, I would say that the upper left bird (the darker one) is a Long-billed Dowitcher while the other one looks to be a Short-billed Dowitcher.

    On LBDO in the spring, I look for (among other things), the barred feathers on the sides, with fresh, frosty white tips. You can also see the “pac-man” shaped tips to the wing coverts.

    The other bird looks too spotty through the upper breast and neck areas to be a Long-billed; however, I have been banding dowitchers this spring and summer and there is a lot of variation.

    Hope this helps.



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