This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the American pipit.
On first glance, it’s fairly easy to mistake the American pipit for another “robin-sized” ground-foraging bird. However, these birds are uniquely adapted to nest in colder climates and thus spend the majority of their time either in Rocky Mountain alpine environments or in tundra farther north. They situate their woven cup nests on the ground in scree fields, rock crevices and other hardscrabble spaces. Nestlings are tough and can endure late winter storms.
During breeding season, one is more likely to spot individuals up in the high country. Come late fall, they transition into flocks and move down to lower elevations to glean insect larvae from shallow water sources (edges of streams and lakes) and mud flats, and seed from recently disturbed agricultural fields. Their feeding behavior oftentimes involves abrupt changes in direction and tail “wagging.”
Adults in breeding season have tannish, almost cinnamon underparts and are grayish-brown on the back. Immature birds and adults out of breeding season have almost sparrow-like plumage with varying degrees of streaking on their breast. Their whitish throats are oftentimes framed by V-shaped dark lines on either side of their neck.
During these winter months, look for a white eye-ring and faint white eyebrow. Pipits can be distinguished from other similar birds by their slender build, pronounced neck and shortish bill. Their whitish outer tail feathers are visible in flight.
Pipits have a repetitive song that sounds like a softened car alarm. In flight, however, they will express a shortened high-pitched “pi-pit” call.
These birds have suffered from loss of wetland habitat during migration and on their wintering grounds. Partners in Flight estimates a population decline of 30 percent since 1970. Get out and look for these birds at the edges of water over the next several months.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.