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American Dipper


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.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
5.5–7.9 in
14–20 cm
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.
  • The oldest American Dipper was over 8 years old, when it was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in South Dakota.



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.



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. American Dippers rapidly duck their heads in and out of water when looking for their stream-dwelling prey.


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
Condition at Hatching
Helpless with only sparse down.
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.

Nest Placement


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.


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.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Though 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.


Range Map Help

American Dipper Range Map
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