American Dipper

Cinclus mexicanus
Range Map

Formerly known as the Water Ouzel, the American Dipper forages under water in fast-moving streams and rivers. These birds don’t migrate, though they sometimes make elevational adjustments to their territories seasonally. We find them throughout western North America, from Alaska to Central America.

When foraging, these birds swim underwater using their wings to propel them through the rushing mountain streams they love. Their diet is exclusively animal, with insects, larvae, egg masses, and sometimes fish on their menu. When walking along the shores or over the rocky islands, they bob, or dip as they move in a curious dancing motion, reminiscent of pipits or Spotted Sandpipers.

I once found a nest of one of these birds in Utah made of living moss stuck to the side of a steep rock face at the edge of a stream between waterfalls. It was so well disguised, it seamlessly blended into the terrain. So well placed it was, it would have been suicidal to attempt reaching it. I’m not sure if the nest was active, but I took photos as a remembrance.

Modern science recognises five subspecies of American Dipper:

  • C. m. unicolor lives in Alaska, Yukon, Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, the eastern Aleutian Islands, Utah, California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.
  • C. m. mexicanus lives in western Mexico, from Chihuahua south and east to Michoacán, and western Puebla.
  • C. m. dickermani lives on the Pacific slope of southwestern Mexico and on the Atlantic slope from Veracruz to Puebla.
  • C. m. anthonyi lives in southern Mexico and northern Central America.
  • C. m. ardesiacus lives in middle to south Central America.

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