Photo: Eugene Beckes/Flickr Creative Commons

American Dipper

Cinclus mexicanus

This distinctive bird is locally common along rushing streams in the West, especially in high mountains. It is usually seen bobbing up and down on a rock in mid-stream, or flying low over the water, following the winding course of a creek rather than taking overland shortcuts. The song and callnotes of the Dipper are loud, audible above the roar of the water.
Conservation status Has declined or disappeared in some former haunts where streams have become polluted. The species is a good indicator of water quality.
Family Dippers
Habitat Fast-flowing streams in mountains. Breeds along swift, rocky streams, seeming to favor clear, cold water, often in narrow canyons. Mostly lives in mountainous areas, but sometimes (especially in Alaska) may be along streams through level country, even near sea level. In winter, may move to streams at lower elevations, sometimes accepting narrow creeks or slower-moving rivers.
This distinctive bird is locally common along rushing streams in the West, especially in high mountains. It is usually seen bobbing up and down on a rock in mid-stream, or flying low over the water, following the winding course of a creek rather than taking overland shortcuts. The song and callnotes of the Dipper are loud, audible above the roar of the water.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Most food is caught underwater. The Dipper may walk with only its head submerged, or may dive, "flying" underwater and walking on the bottom, probing under stones in streambed. Also will swim on surface to pick up floating insects. Occasionally takes insects from streamside rocks, rarely makes short flights to catch insects in mid-air.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-6. White. Incubation is by female, 13-17 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings (but female may do more). Young leave the nest at about 18-25 days, and are able to swim and dive almost immediately.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings (but female may do more). Young leave the nest at about 18-25 days, and are able to swim and dive almost immediately.

Diet

Mostly aquatic insects. Feeds on many kinds of aquatic insects, including larvae of caddisflies, mayflies, beetles, bugs, and mosquitoes, as well as adults of these insects and many others; also some worms and snails. Also eats fish eggs and very small fish (less than 3" long).


Nesting

In courtship, either male or female may strut and sing in front of other bird, with wings drooping and bill pointed up. Nest: Natural sites include slight ledge on mossy rock wall just above stream, among roots on dirt bank, or behind waterfall; often placed where nest remains continuously wet from flying spray. Many nests today are built under bridges that cross mountain streams. Nest (probably built by female) is a domed structure about a foot in diameter, with a large entrance low on one side; made of mosses, some of them still green and growing, often with some twigs, rootlets, or grass woven in.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Permanent resident in many areas, some staying through winter even in far north, wherever fast-flowing streams remain unfrozen. Some move to lower elevations and slightly southward in winter.

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Migration

Permanent resident in many areas, some staying through winter even in far north, wherever fast-flowing streams remain unfrozen. Some move to lower elevations and slightly southward in winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A loud, bubbling song that carries over the noise of rapids. Call is a sharp zeet.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Dippers Perching Birds

American Dipper

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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