Short-billed Dowitcher subspecies

To: Birding-Aus Mail <>
Subject: Short-billed Dowitcher subspecies
From: Tony Palliser <>
Date: Thu, 24 Feb 2000 09:52:02 +1100
Congratulations on your recent success chasing the elusive Short-billed Dowitcher.  To answer your question about why it has been
suggested that this bird may be hendersoni rather than caurinus will depend upon (hopefully) the quality of notes taken from a number
of observers.

There are some excellent papers available some of which may help to clench this one.  Rather than repeat everything may I refer you
to a few references:

Pittway. R. 1992: Birding Vol XXIV: Number 5: 309-310
Wilds. C. & Newlon. M. 1983. Birding, 15: 151-166
Jarmillo. A. 1991. Birders Journal, 1: 8-25

One thing is for certain - peoples notes and interpretations of what they saw will vary for a number of reasons.  Your notes differ
from mine to some degree.  To 'go out on a limb' as they say, my description of the underparts (taken straight from my notebook) for
example read: "Small whitish chin extending on to what appeared to be a uniformly unmarked brilliant coloured breast.  Colour difficult
to describe, perhaps a rich pinkish-orange extending well down to the belly.  Belly paler but also coloured slightly - visible below as the
bird walked away.  Bird not seen directly front on at any stage well.  Sides of breast finely spotted, spots variable in size and density. A
series of dense small spots at the sides of the breast and spots extending well down on to the flanks.  No real sign of any significant
barring or chevrons, although tail barred mostly white".

Other factors that might turn out useful will be the colour and patterning of the feathers on the mantle, scapulars and tertials and
careful notes were taken of these.

Apparently caurinus is very variable so it may take some work yet. The photograph on p310 fig 2 of Birding October 1992 looks very
like the SA bird to my eye and this one happens to be hendersoni.  But as mentioned it is still to be sorted and caurinus varies

Hope this helps


  One question: the bird is generally thought to be of
  the race hendersoni. Given the amount of white on the
  belly and the considerable barring and spotting on the
  flanks and undertail coverts, can anyone establish why
  it isn't in fact the race caurinus? This bird breeds
  in Alaska and migrates along the west Pacific
  coast(underlike Henderson's which breeds in central
  Canada and migrates through the midwestern States) and
  is surely the more likely candidate to visit these
  shores. Of course, I recognise the occurrence of any
  American Dowitcher in Australia is a major event and
  therefore "likelihood" is a strictly relative concept.

Tony Palliser
Unit 3D, 16 Broughton Road,
Artarmon.  NSW 2064.  Australia
Ph Home - 61.2.94115272
Ph Work - 61.2.94911678
Ph Mobile - 0412.095875

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