Bird GuideSandpipersShort-billed Dowitcher

At a Glance

The name of this species could be misleading: it is 'short-billed' only by comparison to the Long-billed Dowitcher, and longer-billed than the average shorebird. Flocks of Short-billed Dowitchers wade in shallow water over coastal mudflats. They often seem rather tame, allowing a close approach when they are busy feeding.
Sandpiper-like Birds, Sandpipers
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Breeds in three distinct regions, with distinct migratory routes and wintering areas. Alaska birds winter on Pacific Coast, central Canada birds migrate through Great Plains and along Atlantic Coast, eastern Canada birds stay east, winter as far south as Brazil.


12" (30 cm). Very similar to Long-billed (bill length unreliable). In breeding plumage, Short-bill may show more white on belly or be evenly pale orange below, not deep chestnut. Fall juvenile Short-bills more brightly marked. This is usually the common dowitcher in salt water. Voice is best clue.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White
Wing Shape
Pointed, Tapered
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped, Wedge-shaped

Songs and Calls

A soft tu-tu-tu, quite unlike call of Long-billed Dowitcher.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Trill, Whistle


Mudflats, tidal marshes, pond edges. Migrants and wintering birds favor coastal habitats, especially tidal flats on protected estuaries and bays, also lagoons, salt marshes, sometimes sandy beaches. Migrants also stop inland on freshwater ponds with muddy margins. Breeds in far north, mostly in open bogs, marshes, and edges of lakes within coniferous forest zone.



4, sometimes 3. Olive-buff to brown, marked with brown. Incubation is by both sexes, about 21 days.


Downy young leave nest shortly after hatching. Roles of parents in caring for young not well known, but reportedly female departs, leaving male to tend the chicks. Young find all their own food. Their development and age at first flight are not well known.

Feeding Behavior

Typically forages by wading in shallow water (sometimes walking on wet mud), probing deeply in the mud with its bill. Usually deliberate in its feeding, standing in one spot or moving forward slowly.


Small aquatic invertebrates. Diet probably varies with season. Eats many insects and their larvae, especially on breeding grounds. In migration and winter also eats mollusks, marine worms, crustaceans. At times, may feed heavily on seeds of grasses, bulrushes, pondweeds, other plants. In spring, also feeds on eggs of horseshoe crab.


Much of nesting area is far inland, generally south and east of the breeding range of Long-billed Dowitcher. Nest site is on ground in bog, forest clearing, or edge of tundra, often near water. Nest is a shallow depression in moss or in a clump of grass, lined with small twigs, leaves, fine grasses.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

As with many other shorebird species, large numbers where shot during migration in the 1800s, so probably less numerous than historical levels now. Current populations probably stable, but vulnerable.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Short-billed Dowitcher. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Short-billed Dowitcher

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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