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American Dipper Life History


Habitat Rivers and StreamsAmerican 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. Back to top


Food Aquatic invertebratesAmerican 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. American Dippers rapidly duck their heads in and out of water when looking for their stream-dwelling prey. Back to top


Nest Placement

Nest CliffAmerican 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.

Nest Description

Males and females may work together to build the ball-like nest, often in freezing temperatures. Materials are dipped into water before being weaved 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.

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 (1.7-1.9 cm)
Incubation Period:14-17 days
Nestling Period:24-26 days
Egg Description:White.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless with only sparse down.
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Behavior Surface DiveAmerican 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.Back to top


Conservation Low ConcernThough American Dipper populations are difficult to count, numbers appear to be relatively stable, though experienced a small decline from 1966 to 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 190,000 with 86% living in the U.S., 8% in Canada, and 5% in Mexico. They rate a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. 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. Back to top


Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (2014b). Available from

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Wilson, Mary F. and Hugh E. Kingery. (2011). American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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