|Conservation status||Has declined or disappeared in some former haunts where streams have become polluted. The species is a good indicator of water quality.|
|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.|
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 CallsA loud, bubbling song that carries over the noise of rapids. Call is a sharp zeet.
Learn more about this sound collection.
How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the American Dipper
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.
Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.
Climate threats facing the American Dipper
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.