Bird of the Month: American Dipper
By Hugh Jennings
Scientific Name Cinclus mexicanus
Length 7.5-8 in
Wingspan 11 in
AOU Band code AMDI
The American Dipper (AMDI) is about 7.5-8” long with an 11” wingspan. The genus name Cinclus (SINK-lus) is from Greek kink-los, kind of a bird. The species name mexicanus (meks-ih-CANE-us) is Latin, of Mexico.
The AMDI was formerly known as the Water Ouzel. It is found only along fast-flowing, rocky streams in the western United States and Canada. Generally non-migratory, but may descend to lower elevations in winter. It is the only truly aquatic songbird (it swims underwater) and has no other close relatives in North America. It bobs its whole body up and down, and can completely submerge to feed on aquatic life on the bottom of turbulent streams, emerging a distance away. Special adaptations enable the dipper to go underwater; scales cover its nostrils; dense plumage resists water; and an extra-large oil gland with which it waterproofs its plumage.
The AMDI is all dark gray and is stocky with a short tail, often cocked, and long legs. A white eyelid is obvious when the bird blinks. Its song, given in flight, is a loud musical series of whistles with repeated phrases; call is “bzeet”.
The nest, made by the female, is about one foot in diameter and is arched over, shaped like an oven with a side entrance and is made of mosses and grasses lined with moss and placed most often on a cliff face in a damp location. Sometimes the nest is on a rock in midstream, underneath a bridge over water (like under the Teanaway River bridge on old highway 10 east of Cle Elum), or behind a waterfall. Three to six white eggs are laid. Incubation is 14-17 days and the young fledge in 18-25 days. Normally, there will be two broods in a season.