Bird of the Week

Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the long-billed dowitcher.

There is magic to bird migration. Birds that we are used to seeing in winter suddenly disappear and are replaced by ones not seen since last fall. A flock of shorebirds drops out of the sky to spend the night and is gone the next day. Those like the juncos in our yards now don’t go far, only disappearing to a higher elevation for the summer.

Long-distance migrants, in a leap of faith, fly thousands of miles to breed and raise young. A quick look at the range map of the long-billed dowitcher places it in this category. From their winter homes along both coasts and south into Mexico, they travel to extreme northwestern Alaska and Canada. Some stop here to rest and feed along the way.

In summer, the long-billed dowitcher is found in wet, grassy meadows with shallow ponds. It wades in the water, jabbing and probing in the mud with its long, straight bill in a motion likened to that of a sewing machine. There are numerous tactile sensors in its bill tip which allow the dowitcher to feel the buried insects and crustaceans it feeds on. Some plant matter and seeds are also a part of its diet.

This medium-sized sandpiper is a chunky bird with front-heavy posture. In breeding plumage, its upper parts are a mix of black, gold, rufous and white colors, and its underparts are cinnamon. It has a long, pale eyebrow and a bill twice the length of the skull.

Shorebirds are a treat to see here and now is the time to look for them during their northern migrations.

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