Adult. Photo: Jim Gain/Flickr (CC BY NC)

American Pipit

Anthus rubescens

Nesting in the far north and on mountaintops, American Pipits can be found throughout the continent during migration or winter. At those seasons they are usually in flocks, walking on shores or plowed fields, wagging their tails as they go. Often they are detected first as they fly over high, giving sharp pi-pit calls.
Conservation status Some analyses of Christmas Bird Counts have suggested declining numbers; however, species is still widespread and common.
Family Wagtails and Pipits
Habitat Tundra, alpine slopes; in migration and winter, plains, bare fields, shores. Breeds on tundra, both in far north and in high mountains above treeline, in areas with very low growth such as sedges, grass, and dwarf willows. In migration and winter found on flat open ground such as plowed fields, short-grass prairie, mudflats, shores, river sandbars.
Nesting in the far north and on mountaintops, American Pipits can be found throughout the continent during migration or winter. At those seasons they are usually in flocks, walking on shores or plowed fields, wagging their tails as they go. Often they are detected first as they fly over high, giving sharp pi-pit calls.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking on the ground, taking insects from the ground or from low plants. Sometimes forages while walking in very shallow water. Except in the breeding season, usually forages in flocks.


Eggs

4-6, sometimes 3-7. Whitish to pale buff, heavily spotted with brown and gray. Incubation is by female only, 13-16 days. Male feeds female during incubation period. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Female broods young much of the time during first few days; male may bring food for her and for young. Young usually leave nest at about 14 days, are fed by parents for about another 2 weeks.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Female broods young much of the time during first few days; male may bring food for her and for young. Young usually leave nest at about 14 days, are fed by parents for about another 2 weeks.

Diet

Mostly insects, also some seeds. Insects make up great majority of summer diet; included are many flies, true bugs, beetles, caterpillars, moths, and others. Also eats some spiders, millipedes, ticks. Migrants along coast may eat tiny crustaceans and marine worms. Inland in fall and winter, seeds of grasses and weeds may make up close to half of diet.


Nesting

Male performs song-flight display to defend nesting territory and attract a mate. In display, male begins singing on ground, flies up (often to 100' or more), then glides or parachutes down again with wings fully opened, singing all the way. Nest site is on ground in sheltered spot, usually protected under overhanging grass, small rock ledge, or piece of sod. Nest (built by female only) is a cup of grass, sedges, and weeds, lined with finer grass and sometimes with animal hair or feathers.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates in flocks, apparently traveling mostly by day.

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Migration

Migrates in flocks, apparently traveling mostly by day.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Flight song a weak and tinkling trill; call a paired, high-pitched pip-pip.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the American Pipit

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 Pipit

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.

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