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Cinclidae

Dipper
White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus ©Ian Montgomery Website

Dippers are all members of the genus Cinclus in the bird family Cinclidae, named for their bobbing or dipping movements. They are unique among passerines for their ability to dive and swim underwater.

They are small, chunky, stout, short-tailed, short-winged, strong-legged birds. The different species are generally dark brown (sometimes nearly black), or brown and white in colour, apart from the rufous-throated dipper, which is brown with a reddish-brown throat patch. Sizes range from 14–22 cm in length and 40–90 g in weight, with males larger than females. Their short wings give them a distinctive whirring flight. They have a characteristic bobbing motion when perched beside the water, giving them their name. While under water, they are covered by a thin, silvery film of air, due to small bubbles being trapped on the surface of the plumage.

They are found in suitable freshwater habitats in the highlands of the Americas, Europe and Asia. In Africa they are only found in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. They frequent the banks of fast-moving upland rivers with cold, clear waters, though, outside the breeding season, they may visit lake shores and even sea coasts.

Unlike many water birds, dippers are generally similar in form to many terrestrial birds (for example they do not have webbed feet), but they do have some morphological and physiological adaptations to their aquatic habits. Their wings are relatively short but strongly muscled, enabling them to be used as flippers underwater. To reduce their buoyancy in water, the bones are solid instead of hollow. They have dense plumage with a large preen gland for waterproofing their feathers. Relatively long legs and sharp claws enable them to hold on to rocks in swift water. Their eyes have well-developed focus muscles that can change the curvature of the lens to enhance underwater vision and they have nasal flaps to prevent water entering their nostrils.

Their blood has a high haemoglobin concentration, allowing a greater capacity to store oxygen than terrestrial passerines, allowing them to remain underwater for thirty seconds or more, whilst their basal metabolic rate is approximately one-third slower than typical terrestrial passerines of similar mass. One small population wintering at a hot spring in Suntar-Khayata Mountains of Siberia feeds underwater when air temperatures drop below −55 °C.

Dippers forage for small animal prey in and along the margins of fast-flowing freshwater streams and rivers. They perch on rocks and feed at the edge of the water, but they often also grip the rocks firmly and walk down them beneath the water until partly or wholly submerged. They then search underwater for prey between and beneath stones and debris; they can also swim with their wings. The two South American species swim and dive less often than the three northern ones. Their prey consists primarily of invertebrates such as the nymphs or larvae of mayflies, blackflies, stoneflies and caddisflies, as well as small fish and fish eggs. Molluscs and crustaceans are also consumed, especially in winter when insect larvae are less available.

There are just 5 species in this family, which are:

White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus
Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii
American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus
White-capped Dipper Cinclus leucocephalus
Rufous-throated Dipper Cinclus schulzi

Family Links

Dippers Cinclidae

Family Account

The 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…

Dippers Cinclidae

BTO Family Account

The dippers are small family of aquatic birds, making them unique amongst passerine birds. Dumpy, robin-sized birds with a characteristic cocked tail, they are adapted to foraging underwater on small invertebrates living in fast-flowing streams.

Dippers Cinclidae

HBW Family Account

Annotated species list

Dippers Cinclidae

Cornell Family Account

Dippers Cinclidae

Family Account

Dippers are members of the genus Cinclus in the bird family Cinclidae, named for their bobbing or dipping movements. They are unique among passerines for their ability to dive and swim underwater.

Species Links

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Species Account

Very full species account with line drawings etc…

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Cornell Species Account

Cornell species account...

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Species Account

Canadian distribution with map and image…

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Species Account

Image & essay…

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Species Account

Image & essay…

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Image

Images including nest…

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Species Account

Fact sheet and image…

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Species Account

Images and references

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Species Account

Fact sheet…

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

BirdLife Species Account

BirdLife species status

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

HBW Species Account

HBW species account...

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

Species Account

Sound recording and references…

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

Species Account

Image & Song

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

Species Account

The brown dipper (Cinclus pallasii), alternatively known by the common names Pallas's dipper, Asian dipper or the Asiatic dipper, is an aquatic songbird found in the mountains of southern and central Asia. At 22 cm (8.7 in) and 87 grams (3.1 oz), it is the largest of the dippers. This species, which is not often seen, is found at medium to low elevations where mountain streams flow.

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

BirdLife Species Account

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Cinclus Pallasii Temminck, 1820, “Crimea”; error = eastern Siberia. Closest to C. cinclus. Proposed races yesoensis (described from Hokkaido, in N Japan), hondoensis (Hondo, in S Japan) and marila (Taiwan) are considered indistinguishable from nominate; similarly, undina (from Khasi Hills, in NE India) is merged with dorjei. Three subspecies currently recognized.

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Rufous-throated Dipper Cinclus schulzi

BirdLife Species Account

Rufous-throated Dipper Cinclus schulzi

IUCN Species Status

15 cm. Subtly coloured dipper. Dull slaty-grey. Paler on head and face. Pale pinky-rufous bib. White patch in primaries visible in flight and when wing flicking. Short tail and rounded wings. Dark bare parts. Voice Typically series of raspy and metallic shenk calls. Calls faster in flight.

Rufous-throated Dipper Cinclus schulzi

Species Account

The rufous-throated dipper or Argentine dipper (Cinclus schulzi) is an aquatic songbird found in South America, and is part of the dipper family.

Rufous-throated Dipper Cinclus schulzi

HBW Species Account

Argentine Dipper. Taxonomy: Cinclus Schulzi Cabanis, 1882, Cerro Bayo, Tucumán, Argentina. Specific name sometimes misspelt as schulzii. Forms a superspecies with C. leucocephalus; sometimes considered conspecific, but differs significantly in plumage coloration and pattern. Monotypic.

Rufous-throated Dipper Cinclus schulzi

Cornell Species Account

The Rufous-throated Dipper is a distinctive and very range restricted species of dipper, it is only found in the subtropical zone on the east slopes of the Andes in southernmost Bolivia and Northwestern Argentina.

White-capped Dipper Cinclus leucocephalus

Species Account

The white-capped dipper (Cinclus leucocephalus) is an aquatic songbird found in South America. It is a small black bird with white spots. It is found in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

White-capped Dipper Cinclus leucocephalus

BirdLife Species Account

White-capped Dipper Cinclus leucocephalus

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Cinclus leucocephalus Tschudi, 1844, Department of Junín, Peru. Forms a superspecies with C. schulzi; sometimes considered conspecific, but differs significantly in plumage coloration and pattern. Three subspecies recognized.

White-capped Dipper Cinclus leucocephalus

Cornell Species Account

The White-capped Dipper a striking inhabitant of fast-moving clear water streams and rivesr along middle elevations in the northern Andes; and is the northernmost of South America's two dipper species.

White-capped Dipper Cinclus leucocephalus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus

RSPB Species Account

Brief species account with image and UK status etc…

White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus

Species Account

Fact sheet…

White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus

Species Account

The white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus), also known as the European dipper or just dipper, is an aquatic passerine bird found in Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. The species is divided into several subspecies, based primarily on colour differences, particularly of the pectoral band. The white-throated dipper is Norway's national bird.

White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus

IUCN Species Status

This species is patchily distributed across Eurasia

White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus

HBW Species Account

White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 5

Useful Reading

The Dippers

Stephanie Tyler and Stephen Ormerod - T & AD Poyser Ltd (A & C Black) 2010 - 225 pages, Col plate, b/w illus, tabs

ISBN: 9781408136812

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Photographers & Artists

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Gallery

Excellent images…

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Gallery

Excellent image

American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

Gallery

Excelent image…

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

Gallery

Good image…

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

Gallery

Excellent image…