Long-billed Dowitchers (Limnodromus scolopaceus) are plump, long-billed, migratory sandpipers that breed in the high Arctic of northeastern Siberia, northern and western Alaska, and northwestern Canada and winter from the southern United States down to Costa Rica in Central America. In wetland areas here in southeastern Arizona, Long-billed Dowitchers are common late spring and early fall transients and rare winter residents. In May of 2008, we observed this Long-billed Dowitcher along the shore of Arivaca Lake near Arivaca, Arizona.
Long-billed Dowitchers are medium-sized shorebirds with yellowish legs, a white upper rump and lower back visible only in flight, and a straight, solid black bill that is twice as long their head. During the winter, Long-billed Dowitchers are in their non-breeding or basic plumage and have a warm gray back, neck, and chest and white underparts. During the summer, Long-billed Dowitchers are in their breeding or alternate plumage and are mottled dark brown, rufous, and white above and mostly rufous below.
Short-billed Dowitchers (L. griseus) are very similar, but they have a shorter bill, and since they prefer saltwater to fresh, Short-billed Dowitchers are mainly found along the coast and are only rare fall and casual spring transients here in southeastern Arizona.
Long-billed Dowitchers feed on aquatic invertebrates and some plant material. They are usually seen wading around in shallow water repeatedly probing the soft mud for food with their long bill using a sewing machine-like motion. I'm not sure what this Long-billed Dowitcher was finding to eat, but I did see quite a few aquatic bugs and beetles in the warm, shallow water at the edge of the lake.
What few lakes we do have here in arid southeastern Arizona are great places for birdwatching, and not just for waterbirds and shorebirds like Long-billed Dowitchers.
During the late spring and summer, the trees along the shore of the somewhat remote Arivaca Lake are filled with nesting riparian birds like Summer Tanagers (Piranga rubra) and Yellow Warblers (Dendroica petechia), making it a great place to visit even if you are not interested in boating and other lake activities.