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Thread: Yellowleg or Dowitcher?

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    Default Yellowleg or Dowitcher?

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    I originally identified this bird photographed in August 2010 at Popham Beach, ME as a Greater Yellowlegs. After BPN identified one of my recent shorebirds as a Short-billed Dowitcher, I wondered if this was a dowitcher. How does one tell the difference between yellowlegs and dowitchers?

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    Greater Yellowlegs. Legs are too long for dowitcher and too bright. The plumage is made up of tones of grays and flecks of black, where dowitcher will be shades of brown, rufous, and buff in breeding plumage and mostly flat gray in winter. The bill is thin compared to dowitcher, longer than its head but not inordinately so, slightly upturned, and has a pale base. FYI, Lesser Yellowlegs would have an even thinner bill, it would be shorter compared to the size of the head, would be straight rather than upturned, and wouldn't have much if any pale coloration to the base.

    Here's a tip on gauging relative bill length in shorebirds. In your mind's eye, bend the bill backward. Is is longer than the head? How much longer? A little? Twice the length? More than twice? As you gain a bit of experience, this is helpful in sorting out troublesome individuals.

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    Paul,

    Thanks for all the information that helps identify these birds. I like your tip regarding bill length. You guys at BPN do a marvelous job identifying birds.

    Then can I say the following bird is a Lesser Yellowlegs based on its long bright yellow legs and a bill that is about the length of its head and thinner than a dowitcher's.

    Tom

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    Yep, that is a Lesser Yellowlegs.

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    Plus the yellowlegs can be quite noisy!

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