Cinclidae – Dippers

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

Species Links
  • American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

    Species Account
    Very full species account with line drawings etc…
  • American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

    Species Account
    Fact sheet and image…
  • American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

    Species Account
    Canadian distribution with map and image…
  • American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

    Species Account
    Images and references
  • American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

    Species Account
    Fact sheet…
  • 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
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

    Cornell Species Account
    Cornell species account...
  • 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
    Image & Song
  • Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

    Species Account
    Sound recording and references…
  • Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • 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

    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

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Rufous-throated Dipper Cinclus schulzi

    BirdLife Species Account
  • 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

    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

    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

    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
    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

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • 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

    BirdLife Species Account
  • White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus

    Species Account
    Fact sheet…
  • White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus

    RSPB Species Account
    Brief species account with image and UK status etc…
  • White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus

    HBW Species Account
  • White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus

    IUCN Species Status
    This species is patchily distributed across Eurasia
  • White-throated Dipper Cinclus cinclus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • 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.
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 image
  • American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

    Gallery
    Excellent images…
  • American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus

    Gallery
    Excelent image…
  • Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

    Gallery
    Excellent image…
  • Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii

    Gallery
    Good image…

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