Migrants – Yellowlegs and Dowitchers

Two types of shorebirds that migrate through our area have something in common. Each has two species that are very hard to differentiate in the field. There are two species of Yellowlegs, Greater and Lesser. The Greater is larger and its bill is longer in relation to the head. Size is hard to judge unless both are standing near each other. Bill length is variable and unless the bird’s head is at the right angle, it is hard to judge the ratio of bill and head. The two species have a different call so that can help. This is a photo of two Greater and two Lesser Yellowlegs conveniently standing near each other to make the decision easy.

Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers are even harder to identify. The bill length is the same for practical purposes since the difference is masked by the normal variations. Two common methods for identifying which one you are looking at are body and beak shapes. Long-billed Dowitchers have been described as egg-shaped or looking like they swallowed an American football. Short-billed Dowitchers often have a kink in their bill. This photo shows a Short-billed Dowitcher on the left and a Long-billed on the right. The bill kink isn’t very clear in the Short-billed but the body shapes are pretty clear. Pay no attention to the color. The Short-billed Dowitcher still has some breeding plumage but will soon be almost the same color as the Long-billed Dowitcher. Note the difference in forehead shape. That is sometimes used to help with the identification.

There is no mistaking the kink in the bill of this Short-billed Dowitcher.

These two types of waders can often be seen together. That’s a Lesser Yellowlegs above and a Short-billed Dowitcher below. At least I am pretty sure!

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