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Dipper American Dipper

Dippers or (Water Ouzels) are usually seen along fast moving creeks or rivers.

Identification and PicturesDipper

American Dippers (Cinclus mexicanus) are song birds that swim.  They are shaped somewhat like a large wren with a stubby tail.  They have a slate-gray body, dark eyes, and beak, long gray legs, and may have a brownish head.  The eyes appear to flash white when it blinks because of white feathers on the eye lids.  These birds are around 7 to 8 1/2 inches.  Males and females look alike.  Young birds look like the adults, but may have white tips on their feathers.  They get their name from their constant dipping motion as they bend, and straighten their knees.

      Photos by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.

Dippers have down below dense waterproof feathers.  They waterproof the feathers using oil from a large preen gland. Their blood can store more oxygen than most passerine birds.  These adaptations plus a flap which covers the nostrils, and a clear membrane called a "nictitating membrane" which can cover the eye allow dippers to dive, and search for food under water.  They also have strong toes which allow them to grasp rocks on a stream bottom.  Their average dive is 5 seconds, but they can stay down longer.

     Water Ouzels

Dipper sound

Dipper (zeet) call:  Click for Sound
Dipper song Click for Sound

Both male and female sing all year with loud, repeated whistles.  They often give a high zeet sound.  During flight they give a rattling call.

Preferred Habitat

Dippers will inhabit stream, and river beds in the mountainous regions of western North America, where they can be seen diving, and swimming under water for aquatic insects, and small fish.  You may see a dipper dive from a bolder, and bob back to the surface a few seconds later with an insect.  Unfortunately their habit of swimming sometimes makes them prey for large fish.  Unless their stream ices over they will remain in an area all year. 

Breeding and Nesting

A pair of dippers will defend a territory along a stream bed from March through July.  They will approach intruders in a high posture with their bills pointed into the air, and may chase them.  This often ends when one bird submits, and the victor pecks it or even forces it under water.  During courtship the birds will strut, and sing in front of each other with their bills pointed up, and their wings drooping.  American dippers build a bulky nest of moss, grass, and leaves, with an opening onDipper egg the side.  The nest will be close to water, possibly on the bank of a stream or river, on a rock ledge, or under a bridge.  The female will choose the nest site, and both birds will build the nest together.  They will often reuse or build over an old nest.  The female will lay 3 to 6 white eggs which she will incubate for around 13 to 17 days.  Both adult birds will feed the young, which will fledge in around 20 to 25 days, and can swim, and dive as soon as they leave the nest.

After nesting they will molt, but unlike most song birds dippers loose all their feathers at once so they are unable to fly for a short time.  When molting is done dippers may move downstream to avoid the ice buildup as winter comes. 


Dippers feed by wading, diving, and swimming in water for aquatic insects, small fish, and fish eggs.  They also catch flying insects out of the air.

To learn about other favorite birds click here.

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