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.

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.


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.


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.


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).


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

Download Our Bird Guide App


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

See a fully interactive migration map for over 450 bird species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

Learn more

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.
Learn more about this sound collection.