Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Long-billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus scolopaceus
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General Comments For much of the last century, the Long-billed Dowitcher was a very poorly known species, most likely because the few field guides did not adequately provide good field marks, such as the distinctive call notes, separating it from the much more common Short-billed Dowitcher. Observers were reluctant to report Long-billed Dowitchers; however, by the late 1960's and 1970's, better guides and more identification articles appeared, and this species was more frequently reported. It is not likely there has been a major population explosion. This species tends to shun salt water completely. It is practically never seen at tidal mudflats or shores; instead, it occurs only in fresh to brackish still waters, mainly at shallow ponds and impoundments, where it feeds belly-deep with a number of other similar-sized shorebirds: Short-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, and both yellowlegs. Both species of dowitchers often feed in dense flocks, and this species often gives its characteristic "peep" calls while on the ground. (Short-billeds have a very different "tu-tu-tu" call that is essentially given only in flight.) Its migration timing is different from that of the Short-billed, peaking in Sep and Oct (instead of Aug), and numbers are quite scarce in spring by the time the Short-billed passes through mostly in May, in coastal areas. The Long-billed has been reported only twice from the mountains.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S2N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Transient and winter resident; mainly along the coast and at Mattamuskeet NWR and vicinity. Coastally, fairly common in fall at Bodie and Pea islands, but elsewhere it is uncommon and local. Uncommon to fairly common in winter at Bodie-Pea, but rare to locally uncommon elsewhere along the coast; intensely local, and found mainly at a very few sites. In Tidewater, regular mainly at Lake Mattamuskeet and a few adjacent impoundments, and recently at flooded fields at Alligator River NWR; locally uncommon to rare. Small numbers overwinter at Lake Mattamuskeet, and perhaps at Alligator River NWR, but essentially absent elsewhere in winter in the Tidewater zone. Farther inland, casual to very rare, only in fall migration. In the province, there is very little evidence of a northbound flight, and spring numbers seem mainly to be of overwintering birds. Coastally, mainly late Jul to early May, but not numerous until Sep. Farther inland, late Jul to mid-Nov, with one winter report: 2, New Bern, 19 Dec 1994. Peak counts: 350, Lake Mattamuskeet, 23 Jan 1993; 260, Bodie Island, 22 Aug 1979 (quite an early date for such a large number, if correctly identified). A count of 72 in a flooded field east of Aurora (Beaufort) on 30 Dec 2022 was notable away from better known wintering sites farther northward and coastally. Notable in spring was a count of 75 at Lake Mattamuskeet on 8 May 2009.
Piedmont Transient. Accidental to casual in spring (three reports), very rare to locally rare (at Falls and Jordan lakes during low water levels) in fall, and essentially accidental farther westward. There appear to be only three Piedmont records in the central and western parts of the province, two in Forsyth and one in Cabarrus. The spring reports -- hopefully correct -- are of 1 at Raleigh on 8 May 1999, 1 at Falls Lake on 15 May 1983, and 1 photographed in Forsyth on 26-27 Apr 2020. Fall records occur between early Aug and mid-Dec, with one early winter report -- 1-2 lingered at Raleigh from 20 Nov - 17 Dec 1983. Peak counts: 3, Falls Lake, 8 Oct 1987; 2 on three occasions.
Mountains Transient; casual or accidental. The only reports are one photographed at Osceola Lake (Henderson), 23 Jul 2017* [Chat 81:104 link], [Chat 82:57 link], and one seen and photographed at Brevard (Transylvania), 30 Apr 2020 [Chat 84:95 link].
Finding Tips You should be able to find the species in mid- to late fall at the impoundments at Pea and Bodie islands, or along the shores of Lake Mattamuskeet. However, you might need to flush the birds, or otherwise make sure you hear their calls, to be sure you have ruled out Short-billed Dowitchers, which are often present at these waters at the same time of year.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-05-17], LeGrand[2023-03-11], LeGrand[2020-08-03]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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