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A photo of a American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus)
American Dipper

American Dipper

Cinclus mexicanus

The American dipper, known scientifically as Cinclus mexicanus and colloquially as the water ouzel, is a robust, slate-grey bird with a head that may show a hint of brown. Notably, it possesses white feathers on its eyelids, which give a conspicuous flash of white with each blink. This bird measures approximately 16.5 cm in length, with a wingspan of 23 cm, and an average weight of 46 grams. Its common name, "dipper," is inspired by its unique behavior of bobbing up and down on its long legs while foraging in fast-moving, rocky streams.

Identification Tips

When attempting to identify the American dipper, look for its distinctive bobbing motion and its ability to walk underwater. The white eyelid flash is also a key characteristic to watch for. Its stocky build and grey plumage are consistent across the species, with little variation.

Habitat

This semiaquatic species thrives in the mountainous regions of western North America and Central America. It is particularly fond of fast-flowing, clear streams, where it can be seen deftly maneuvering through the water.

Distribution

The American dipper can be found from the icy streams of Alaska down through western Canada and the western United States, reaching as far south as Panama. It is generally a year-round resident, though it may migrate short distances to find unfrozen water or food during harsher conditions.

Behaviour

The American dipper is a solitary and territorial bird, often seen alone as it defends its linear stretch of stream. It shares many behavioral traits with its European relative, the white-throated dipper.

Song & calls

The vocal repertoire of the American dipper includes high-pitched whistles and trills, articulated as "peee peee pijur pijur," which both sexes sing throughout the year, regardless of the season.

Breeding

Nesting close to water, the American dipper constructs a globe-shaped nest with a side entrance, often on a rock ledge or behind a waterfall. The female incubates a clutch of 2-4 white eggs for about 15-17 days. After hatching, the fledglings remain in the nest for another 20-25 days, with both parents contributing to feeding.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the American dipper consists mainly of aquatic insects, their larvae, small crayfish, and occasionally tiny fish or tadpoles. It is uniquely adapted to forage underwater, using its long legs to walk along the streambed.

Conservation status

The IUCN Red List classifies the American dipper as Least Concern, indicating a stable population. However, its presence is a reliable indicator of water quality, and it has disappeared from some areas due to pollution or increased silt in streams.

Similar Species

While the American dipper is unique in its behavior and habitat, it may be confused with other grey birds of similar size. However, its aquatic habits and bobbing motion are distinctive.

Predators

Natural predators of the American dipper include predatory fish such as brook trout and bull or Dolly Varden trout, which may occasionally capture these birds.

In the words of the esteemed naturalist John Muir, the American dipper is the "mountain streams' own darling," a bird that sings with the same cheer and independence, whether in the warmth of summer or the chill of winter. Its song is as constant as the bubbling streams it calls home.

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A photo of a Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

Dipper

Cinclus cinclus
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