A mid-sized, chunky shorebird with a relatively long, straight bill, and dull greenish legs. Three distinct subspecies are most recognizable in alternate plumages. All show a dark brown crown, dark feathers with buffy or orangish buff margins, a white wedge running up the back (in flight), a pale supercilium, cinnamon orange on the lower face, throat and foreneck, with dark spotting at the base of the neck, and heavy blackish barring running the length of the flanks, vent, and undertail.
Eastern birds show the least colorful underparts with a pale orange neck and upper breast fading to white on the lower breast and belly, and their undertail and lower flanks are washed with buff. Their flanks are heavily barred.
Prairie birds are the most colorful overall and show the least amount of barring on the flanks. Their underparts are almost entirely cinnamon-orange, much like an alternate Long-billed Dowitcher. However, their upperparts show broader orangish-buff margins, resulting in lighter overall back color than Long-billed and the other two subspecies of Short-billed. They are spotted as opposed to barred at the base of the neck and the black barring on the flanks lacks the white fringes shown by alternate-plumaged Long-billeds.
Pacific Coast birds are similar to Eastern, but darker cinnamon-orange on the throat and foreneck, more extensive orange coloration below reaches the upper belly, and orange-buff wash extends down the flanks. White on belly more restricted, starting just in front of the legs. Shows heavier and darker barring on the flanks.
Basic Adults of all three subspecies are similar; they are entirely gray above and on the breast, lacking black or rufous tones, with white belly and pale flanks that are barred with gray.
Juveniles are more colorful and richly patterned than similar juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher; back, wing covert, and tertials feature dark-centered feathers that are broadly edged with rufous giving the upperparts an overall rusty look. Long-billed juveniles have similar dark-centered feathers, but the rufous edges are much narrower and darker, causing Long-billeds to look darker-backed. Short-billeds have a rich orangish-buff breast, while Long-billeds are gray or buffy gray on the breast. Short-billed has a reddish brown crown compared to the dingier gray-brown crown of the Long-billed. Both species have a pale supercilium and dark eye line. At close range the tertial patterns of juvenile dowitchers are diagnostic; the black tertials of Short-billeds are broadly edged with rufous and also have rufous hash marks (bars) running down the sides of each feather. Long-billeds have black tertials with narrower rusty or gray margins, but lack rufous barring along the sides. In some postures, Long-billed Dowitchers may look more hump-backed than Short-billeds, but this characteristic is not diagnostic, nor is bill length, which overlaps between these species.
Length: 28 (cm) Wingspan: 48 (cm)
Typical call, usually only given in flight, is a fast series of 3-5 throaty "tu tu tu" notes, compared to higher-pitched "keek keek keek" of Long-billed, which can be heard both in flight and from birds that are on the ground.
Mudflats, beaches, estuaries, wet fields, lakeshores, shallow pools. Typically seen on beaches and outer coastal areas. On northern breeding grounds, occupies wet bogs.
Often flocks with other shorebirds during migration and winter. Nest is a scrape on the ground in a wet meadow.
Probes in mud, using sensitive bill to feel for prey, with hunched posture and sewing-machine motion. Eats a variety of worms, insects, mollusks, and other small organisms.
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