Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Short-billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus griseus
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General Comments Among the most difficult identification problem facing birders is the separation of the two dowitcher species. Though there are a number of slight plumage and bill length differences, most observers use call notes and habitat for identification. The Short-billed is the only dowitcher species normally found on tidal mudflats, and, indeed, it is often common to abundant on them. But, Short-billeds are frequently found in fresh to brackish pools and impoundments, along with Long-billed Dowitchers and many other fairly large shorebird species. They usually feed in standing water, often up to their bellies, rapidly probing the water and mud, seemingly oblivious to danger. Like most other shorebirds, much smaller numbers are found inland in migration, mainly in fall and at extensive mudflats.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S4N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient and winter resident, mainly along the coast. Common to abundant spring and fall migrant along the coast; fairly common, at least locally, in winter from Carteret southward; uncommon by midwinter on the northern half of the coast. Uncommon in early summer. In Tidewater, generally an uncommon transient, and very rare to rare in winter. Farther inland, very rare in spring, and rare in fall; no winter records. Essentially all year on the coast, but less numerous from mid-Jun to mid-Jul; inland, mainly late Apr to mid-May, and early Jul to mid-Sep. Northbound flight peaks in mid- to late May, rather late for a shorebird species; fall flight peaks rather early, often in Aug. Peak counts: 5,500, Fort Fisher spit, 3 Aug 2012; inland: 56, at Buckhorn Reservoir (Wilson), 20 Aug 2022.
Piedmont Transient. Very rare in spring, and rare to often uncommon (though local) in fall. Mainly early and mid-May, and mid-Jul to mid-Sep. Despite it wintering along the coast, there are no published records from Oct through Apr. Peak counts: 65, Falls Lake, 30 Aug 2007; 57, Falls Lake, 20-27 Aug 2005; and 55, Jordan Lake, 3-5 Sep 1983. Remarkable spring counts are 44 at Lake Adger (Polk), 12 May 2021, and 30 in Cleveland, 14 May 1995 [Chat 60:72 link]; both almost certainly a result of a night-time storm forcing down a flock of dowitchers.
Mountains Transient, mainly in Henderson and Transylvania. Very rare in spring and in fall, at least in Henderson; casual elsewhere. Mainly early and mid-May, and mid-Jul to early Sep; no records from Oct through Feb. Very early were 5 at Asheville on 3 Mar 2008, and 1 in Henderson on 2 Apr 2010. Peak counts: a remarkable 100+, Hooper Lane (Henderson), 16 May 2018; 30, Hooper Lane, 12 May 2019; 25, Hooper Lane, 12 Aug 2006; 20, Henderson, 8 Sep 2004 (after Tropical Storm Frances); 20, Hooper Lane, 12 May 2021; 18, Hooper Lane, 31 Aug 2017. Oddly, despite a much smaller geographic area, and many, many fewer observers, there are more published spring reports (18) in the province than in the Piedmont (only seven?).
Finding Tips This species is hard to miss along the coast during the migrations.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-18], LeGrand[2023-03-11], LeGrand[2021-08-30]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.