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July 28, 2014

Bird of the Week – American Dipper

When folks think about birds that winter in Alaska during the long, dark winter, they often forget one species.

American Dipper with a Snack

American Dipper with a Snack

The American Dipper, a bird that spends a big chunk of its life under water, stays in Alaska all winter. Dippers forage by walking and swimming in shallow, fast streams, catching fish and invertebrates. It survives by staying in the air pockets under river ice, where the temperature is a relatively mild 32 degrees. In the summer, you’ll see the bird along fast-flowing streams, doing its namesake dipping movement. The old name for Dippers was Water Ouzel, a name that calls to mind the species’ lovely song.

This bird was bringing food to a nest along Rock Creek on the Denali Highway in 2013.

For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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10 Responses to “Bird of the Week – American Dipper”
  1. laurainnocal says:

    Agreed, I have not heard of the american dipper or dipper. Almost a brown starling? Nest inground or above?

  2. Mag the Mick says:

    I loved standing on the Ward Creek footbridge in Ketchikan and watching these little guys. They could walk right on the bottom of the creek bed, then zoom right up to the rocks. When I first saw them, I thought I was having some kind of really cool flashback.

  3. mike from iowa says:

    Your dipper bird looks quite similar to our catbird.

  4. kaa says:

    I seem to recall a long while back, reading that John Muir discovered and named this little treasure the “Water Ouzel”. (don’t claim it to be true, but it would be interesting to know……..) It’s a shame to call it a “dipper” (when did that happen?), such a common word, for a truly uncommon bird. But then, I tend to think it’s a shame we name anything except a statue after a human being. (the name Mt. McKinley comes to mind……and, oh so many more)

  5. Mo says:

    Really interesting birds. From the bridge over the creek in our neighborhood one can watch them dive off the rocks, swim underwater like little submarines, and then bob to the surface like corks. One winter the creek glaciered over, with a sort of ledge where the thick ice ended and the water flowing beneath could surface. And there was an ouzel, diving away off the little ice cliff.

    Fearless. I was sitting streamside one late summer day and three newly-independent chicks came strolling right up between my boots, peering up at me with their beady little black eyes.

    The song really is amazing – surprisingly loud and full of trills, apparently designed to be heard over the rushing water noise.

    WC – any theories as to why they bob like that when they’re standing?

    • There are approximately as many theories as there are ornithologists. Here’s a sampling:

      (1) communication as to location or as warning to other Dippers, but solitary birds dip, as do groups of fledglings;

      (2) as intraspecific advertising or contact signal because of stream noise;

      (3) better vision into water;

      (4) triangulation (eye moves up and down with dip) to help bird measure its position in a complex moving environment;

      (5) fitness signaling and

      (6) predator deterrence.

      Take your pick, but they do invest a lot of energy into the behavior.

  6. slipstream says:

    If the Dipper is so good at catching invertebrates, why is Captain Zero still around?

  7. mike from iowa says:

    Smokeless tobacco-even ‘merican snuff-is a filthy,disgusting habit. We shouldn’t celebrate “dipping”.

  8. Zyxomma says:

    This is a bird with which I was totally unfamiliar. Thanks so much, WC, not only for the beautiful photo, but for introducing me to a species I didn’t know at all.

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