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American Dipper

Cinclus mexicanus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CINCLIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A chunky bird of western streams, the American Dipper is North America's only truly aquatic songbird. It catches all of its food underwater in swiftly flowing streams by swimming and walking on the stream bottom.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
5.5–7.9 in
14–20 cm
Weight
1.5–2.4 oz
43–67 g
Other Names
  • Cincle d'Amerique, Cincle Americain (French)
  • Tordo acuático, Cinclo norteamericano (Spanish

Cool Facts

  • The American Dipper chooses a nest site, invariably along a stream, that provides security from floods and predators. Availability of suitable nest sites appears to limit its populations.
  • To be able to survive in cold waters during the winter, the American Dipper has a low metabolic rate, extra oxygen-carrying capacity in its blood, and a thick coat of feathers.
  • Unlike most other songbirds, but similarly to ducks, the American Dipper molts its wing and tail feathers all at once in the late summer. The bird is flightless during this time.

Habitat


River/Stream

American Dippers live almost solely on rushing, unpolluted waters and can be found in mountain, coastal, or even desert streams of the West. Dippers forage in streams with rocky bottoms, and they use streams with overhanging banks for cover and nesting locations. American Dippers don't migrate south, though they may move to larger, unfrozen rivers in winter or follow insect hatches in spring or summer.

Food


Insects

American Dippers feed on aquatic insects and their larvae, including mayflies, mosquitoes, and midges. They also eat dragonflies, worms, small fish, fish eggs, or flying insects. When looking for their stream-dwelling prey, American Dippers duck their heads into the water, often up to 60 times per minute, a movement that gives this bird its name.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
4–5 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.9–1.1 in
2.3–2.8 cm
Egg Width
0.7–0.8 in
1.7–2 cm
Incubation Period
14–17 days
Nestling Period
24–26 days
Egg Description
White.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless with only sparse down.
Nest Description

The female builds the dipper's domed, ball-like nests, often in freezing temperatures. She dips the materials into water before weaving them into two layers: one, an outer shell, 8-10 inches in diameter, made of moss, and the other an inner chamber with a woven cup, 2-3 inches in diameter, made of grass, leaves, and bark. Once the nest is finished, the mossy shell absorbs moisture and the coarse grass keeps the inside dry.

Nest Placement

Cliff

American Dippers build nests on cliff ledges, behind waterfalls, on boulders, and on dirt banks or under bridges, but always above or close to the fast water of their stream habitat. Females choose a ledge or crevice that is 6-20 feet above deep water so that the nest will not be in danger of predators or flooding.

Behavior


Surface Dive

American Dippers can wade, swim, and dive either from the water or from the air, and can move rocks on the stream-bottom to get at food. They are mainly monogamous. Though some pairs stay together in winter, the dipper is generally a solitary bird; after the chicks’ fledging, parents often divide their brood and their territory and part ways.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Bridge-building during road construction has created nesting locations that dippers seem to readily take to. Dam construction floods dipper habitat, and land uses such as logging, mining and agriculture can affect water quality and reduce the availability of their aquatic insect prey. Dippers are also susceptible to pollution in waters including organic pollutants such as PCBs and heavy metals. Dipper populations are difficult to count in programs like the Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count, so it's uncertain whether dippers populations are stable, rising, or falling.

Credits

  • Kingery, H. E. 1996. American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus). In The Birds of North America, No. 229 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Range Map Help

American Dipper Range Map
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