- 5 species worldwide
- DR personal total: 4 species (80%), 2 photo'd
Dippers are five closely related species that share a distinctive
lifestyle. Of the North American bird, Hoffman (1927) wrote that it "is
an astonishing sight to see a bird ... dive headlong into a foaming
mountain stream and disappear under its waters. ... The dipper has
adopted the water as its element and lives its whole life over and in
the pools and waterfalls of brooks and rivers." This can be said of any
dipper, including Brown Dipper along swift rivers in the Himalayas (below, photo by Dan Singer). Of the European bird, White-throated Dipper (left),
Witherby (1943) wrote that it "delights to perch on stone or rock
protruding from water, bobbing and curtseying in characteristic fashion
as if hinged on legs, with accompanying downward jerk of tail and
blinking of white eye-lid." Again, this can be said of any dipper.
"dippers are extraordinary in being the only passerines adapted to
exploit aquatic habitats fully, by swimming and diving. ... Dippers
have many of the physiological adaptations for diving that are
possessed by other aquatic birds. For example, there is an immediate
drop in the heart rate as a bird plunges under water, and a further
decline during the period of submersion. As the dipper surfaces, the
heart rate increases. Dipper blood has a higher concentration of
haemoglobin than that found in comparable passerines, allowing for
greater oxygen storage;" Ormerod & Tyler (2005). Dippers pursue a
large variety of underwater prey, including small fish, dragonfly or
caddis-fly larvae, and a rich diversity of aquatic invertebrates.
entire life-cycle of all the dippers is tied to their specialized
habitat. Nest are often built behind waterfalls, or under bridges.
Recently fledged young, like this juvenal American Dipper
(left), quickly take to their watery home, following parents around by
hopping from rock to rock, or chasing them on short, fast-moving wings.
Pairs tend to be mated for long periods, even year
after year in some locales. A dipper's song is a loud, musical,
bubbling and wren-like affair. Some species, like White-throated
Dipper, may sing throughout much of the year, including to establish
winter territories. In some populations of dippers, though, males may
be polygynous, helping to rear the broods of two, three, or even four
females (Ormerod & Tyler 2005).
There is just
one dipper — American Dipper — in North America, with a range
stretching from Alaska, through the western United States, and south in
the mountains to Panama. Eurasia has two: White-throated from Britain
to China across the Palearctic, and Brown, Himalayas and eastern Asia
north to Sakhalin Island. South America also has two species: White-capped Dipper (below, photo by William Hull) — a bird of Andean streams from Venezuela to Bolivia — and Rufous-throated Dipper Cinclus schulzi, very locally distributed in the eastern Andes of s. Bolivia and nw. Argentina.
Muir, the great American environmentalist of the 19th century who so
loved to hike in the Sierra Nevada, wrote that the Dipper, "among all
the mountain birds, none has cheered me so much in my lonely wandering"
(Muir 1878). Twenty years later he wrote again of the dipper: "Bird and
stream are inseparable, songful and wild, gentle and strong, the bird
ever in danger in the midst of the stream's mad whirlpools, yet
seemingly immortal. And so I might go on, writing words, words, words:
but to what purpose? Go see him and love him, and through him as
through a window look into nature's warm heart" (Muir 1898).
late David Gaines, a great American environmentalist of the 20th
century, used Muir's words as his afterward in the classic Birds of Yosemite and the East Slope (Gaines 1988). The dippers do stir human souls as they go about their ordinary lives.
Photos: The White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus was at Huzu Bei Shan, Qinghai Province, China, in June 2004. Dan Singer photographed the Brown Dipper C. pallasii along the Kosi River in northern India, 13 Mar 2001. The young American Dipper C. mexicanus was on the Carmel River below San Clemente Dam, Monterey Co., California, in May 1987. William Hull photographed the White-capped Dipper C. leucocephalus at Lodge, Ecuador. Photos © Don Roberson, except those attributed © Dan Singer and © William Hull [Bill has a wonderful webste with over 2200 world bird photos and sounds], and used with permission; all rights reserved.
Bibliographic note: There is family book in the Poyser series but I have not seen it: Tyler, S.J., & Ormerod, S.J. 1994. The Dippers. T. & A.D. Poyser, Calton, U.K.
David Suddjian has kindly supplied this capsule review:
book "has a focus on the White-throated Dipper and Great Britain, which
was the focus of most of the authors' research, and from there it
compares to what is known from elsewhere in Europe, and of the other
dipper species elsewhere. 223 pp., some nice illustrations and photos.
Style and format reminded me of Derek Ratcliffe's books on Peregrine
Falcon and Common Raven, also in the Poyser series."
a book may indeed bring together important research, but the focus on a
single species with an "afterthought" to the other species in the
family probably does not qualify as a true "family book" in the
traditional sense. Fortunately, the authors of the Poyser book are also
the authors of the Handbook of the Birds of the World
chapter: Ormerod & Tyler (2005). Thus their prior research is now
incorporated in a true "family" text, and now gilded with some dazzling
Gaines, D. 1988. Bird of Yosemite and the East Slope. Artemisia Press, Lee Vining, CA.
Hoffman, R. 1927. Birds of the Pacific States. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
J. 1878. The humming-bird of California water-falls. Scribner's Monthly
15: 545-554, reprinted in Muir, J. 1984. The Mountains of California.
Muir, J. 1898. Among the birds of Yosemite. Atlantic Monthly 82: 751-760.
Ormerod, S.J., and S.J. Tyler. 2005. Family Cinclidae (Dippers), pp. 332 –355 in
Handbook of the Birds of the World (del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & D.A.
Christie, eds). Vol. 10. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Witherby, H.F. 1943. Handbook of British Birds. Vol. 2. H.F. & G. Witherby, Ltd., London.