In the summer, they nest in northern marshes, bogs, wet meadows, and coastal areas where boreal forests transition to tundra. Despite nesting in wet areas, their nests are usually away from the water’s edge. In the winter, they are found in coastal environments, especially tidal mudflats and a range of manmade habitats like shrimp farms. Wintering dowitchers are more likely to be seen in saltwater environments than long-billed dowitchers, which tend to prefer freshwater environments.
Migratory birds, short-billed dowitchers travel between their breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska and their wintering grounds along the coasts of southern North America, northern South America, and Caribbean islands. There are three recognized subspecies that are geographically separated in the breeding season (Alaska, western/central Canada, and eastern Canada), but may mix in the non-breeding season.