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American Pipit

Known for their cryptic plumage and for their distinctive, high-pitched calls, these small birds are a sight to see.

Pipits are common nearly worldwide, but the American Pipit is seldom seen in the summer unless you visit its high altitude or high latitude alpine habitat. Female American Pipits brood their young quite intensively for the first several days to protect them from the cool air, and the short summers in such areas mean that only one brood is produced each year.

Because there aren’t trees to perch in and sing from in the American Pipit’s nesting areas, male pipits have a display in which they fly up into the air and then descend with wings and tail spread. This flight display tells other males to stay away and find another territory in which to live.

Description of the American Pipit


The American Pipit has brownish-gray to gray upperparts with faint streaks, a bold, pale eyeline, variably streaked, whitish to buffy underparts, and a white eye ring. It has an upright posture, and frequently bobs its tail. A number of subspecies account for the plumage variation within the species.
Length 6-7 in.  Wingspan: 11 in.

American Pipit

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.


Same as male.

Seasonal change in appearance

Nonbreeding birds have slightly browner upperparts.


Juveniles resemble adults.


American Pipits inhabit alpine tundra, and during winter are found in fields, lakeshores, and shortgrass prairie.


American Pipits eat insects and seeds.


American Pipits forage by walking on the ground or in shallow water.

American Pipit


American Pipits breed from Alaska south through the mountaintops of western U.S. mountain states, as well as across central and northern Canada. They retreat from northern areas to winter in the southern U.S. and Mexico, as well as the West Coast. The population is not well measured, but may be stable.

More information:

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

– Female, immature, Washington, Sept

– Underside of same wing

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History

Fun Facts

The American Pipit was formerly known as the Water Pipit.

Male American Pipits feed the female while she incubates.


The song is a rapid series of “cheedle” notes given in a flight display. The flight call is a ‘pi-pit.”

Similar Species

Sprague’s Pipit

The back of the Sprague’s Pipit is more strongly marked, almost scaly appearance in good light. Underparts generally paler than American Pipit. Outer tail feathers have more extensive white. Not as common as American Pipit.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrows lack a white eye ring, and typically have yellowish tones in the face.


The American Pipit’s nest is a cup of grasses and weeds and is lined with finer materials. It is placed on the ground under the shelter of vegetation or a rock ledge.

Number: 4-6.

Color: whitish with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 13-16 days and fledge at about 14 days, though remaining dependent on the adults for some time.

Bent Life History of the American Pipit


The pipit, apparently a frail but really a hardy bird, seeks its summer home in regions that would seem to us most unattractive and forbidding, among the moss-covered, rocky hills on the bleak coast of Labrador, along the Arctic tundra to northern Alaska, up to 700 on the west coast of Greenland, and then far southward in the Rocky Mountains to Colorado and New Mexico, where it breeds only above tree limits on the wind-swept mountaintops. In the far north and in Labrador it breeds on low hills not far above sea level, but in the mountains its summer haunts become gradually higher as the tree limit rises; on Mount McKinley, Alaska, it breeds from 4,000 to 5,000 feet altitude, in Oregon it is recorded as breeding above 8,500 feet, in Wyoming above 11,000, in Colorado above 12,000, and in New Mexico, at the southern limit of its breeding range, we may find it above 13,000 feet.On the Labrador coast we found pipits very common all along the coastal strip from Battle Harbor to Cape Mugford, on most of the rocky islands and on the inland hilltops above tree growth. In that region the only tree growth is found in the sheltered hollows back from the coast and in the inland valleys. Elsewhere the coastal strip is mostly bare rock, with a luxuriant growth of reindeer moss, other mosses and lichens clothing the hollows; in the more sheltered places a few small shrubs and dwarfed deciduous trees struggle for existence. Insect life is abundant here during the long days of the short summer, so that the pipits have an ample food supply; they seem to thrive in even the most exposed places.Spring: The pipit, although abundant in fall, seems to avoid New England to a large extent on the spring migration, for it is comparatively rare and quite irregular here at that season. Its northward migration seems to be mainly west of the Alleghenies. This point is well illustrated in Milton B. Trautman’s (1940) account of the migration at Buckeye Lake, Ohio. “The first migrating American Pipits,” he says, “arrived between March 1 and 25. Flocks of moderate or large size, 15 to 500 birds, appeared to be dominant in spring, and only during the very last part of migration were groups of less than 10 birds often observed. The peak of migration occurred from the last of March until mid-April. Then it was possible to record as many as 800 individuals in a day. * * * Throughout spring the species was found principally in recently plowed fields, in wheat fields where the plants averaged less than 5 inches in height, in short-grass pastures, and on the larger mud flats about ‘sky ponds’ or overflow puddles.”Courtship: The song flight of the pipit is the most conspicuous part of the courtship performance. This is very well described by Joseph Dixon (1938), who observed it on Mount McKinley, as follows: “On May 20, 1926, high up among the vanishing snowfields on a rocky barren ridge at 4,000 feet, we watched a male pipit in full nuptial flight. lit perched on a rock, then flew almost vertically into the sky for a distance of from 50 to 150 feet, singing a single note which was repeated constantly. Then with legs extended, feet spread out, and tail sticking upwards at a sharp angle, this male bird sang steadily as he fluttered his wings and floated down like a falling leaf, usually landing near the place from whence he began his flight.”Dr. Charles W. Townsend (Townsend and AlIen, 1907) observed a similar flight-song in Labrador and gives the following information about it:As he went up he sang repeatedly a simple refrain, che-wh~e, che-wh~e with a vibratory resonance on the whde. Attaining an eminence of * * * perhaps 200 feet from the ground, he checked himself and at once began the descent He went down faster and faster, repeating his song at the same time faster and faster. Long before he reached the ground be set his wings and tipped from side to side to break his descent. After remaining quiet on the ground for a few moments he repeated the performance and we watched him go up four or five times. On one occasion he was twenty seconds going up, emitting his refrain forty-eight times. In the descent he was quicker, accomplishing It in ten seconds and singing thirty-two bars of his song.Gayle Pickwell (1947) noticed, on Mount Rainier, Wash., that two males in the vicinity of a female “were battling violently. One of the males was on the near-by snow. The other male plunged down from above with a determination rarely to be observed in avian battIes. * * * These pipits fought on the ground as well as in the air. One stayed largely on the snow while the other dashed upon him from above and there was no denying the seriousness of their struggles.”

Nesting: The two nests of the American pipit that I saw on the coast of Labrador in 1912 were probably typical of the species, in that locality at least. The first nest was shown to me on July 6, in the bare, rocky hills of Battle Island, by two of Dr. Grenfell’s nurses, Miss Coates and Miss Thompkins, whom I had met in Newfoundland. The nest was very prettily located on the side of a little moss-covered ridge or hummock, in a little valley near the top of the moss- and lichencovered island; it was sunk deeply into the soft mosses that overhung the entrance on the side of the little cavity; the nest seemed to be made entirely of fine, dry grasses. It contained five eggs, which I did not disturb. The incubating bird was quite tame and, if quietly approached, could almost be touched on the nest.

The other nest (p1. 2) was shown me by an Eskimo, on July 21, near Hopedale. It was similarly located, near the top of a bare, rocky hill, under the overhanging edge of a moss-covered hummock; it was a larger nest than the other and was made of fine twigs and coarse grasses and lined with finer grass; the four eggs that it contained were nearly ready to hatch.

There is little to be said about the nests in other localities, except that they are always placed on the ground in decidedly open situations, but they are almost always more or less sheltered under some outcropping rock or projecting stones, or under the overhang of some eminence. Some dried moss may be placed in the hollow to protect the eggs against the moisture from the ground, but the nests seem to be made almost entirely of dried grasses and to have no other warm lining. A nest mentioned in some notes sent to me by 0. J. Murie was “placed in the moss at the edge of a rock, back under a willow root,” Of two nests observed by Gayle Pickwell (1947), “one was in a clump of yellow heather and another beneath the leaves of a purple aster.”

Eggs: The American pipit lays four to seven eggs; four and five seem to be the commonest numbers. They are ovate and have very little gloss. The ground color is grayish white or dull white, sometimes buffy white, but it is often so thickly covered with the markings that it is hardly visible and the egg appears to be of a dark chocolate color, indistinctly marked with small black lines. In the less heavily marked eggs the spots are more distinct and are in various shades of bright or dull browns, from chocolate to hair brown, or in some shades of drab or gray. Sometimes these markings are concentrated into solid color at the larger end. The measurements of 50 eggs in the United States National Museum average 19.9 by 14.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 21.8 by 15.5, 17.8 by 14.2, and 19.8 by 13.7 millimeters.

Young: The period of incubation does not seem to have been definitely determined, but it probably does not differ materially from that of closely related European species, 13 or 14 days. According to the observations of Hazel S. Johnson (1933), at Wolf Bay, Labrador, the young leave the nest about 13 days after hatching. The brooding is done entirely by the female, but both sexes assist in feeding the young. “While in the nest the young were fed at quite regular intervals throughout the long July days. My notes show that they were fed as early as 4:30 A. ~i. (I believe that feeding started even earlier) and continued as late as 8: 55 r. ~i. Rain and fog did not seem to retard feeding activities of the parent birds.” Her table indicates that the interval between feedings varied from 5 to 19 minutes; the number of feedings for a 2-hour period varied from 5 to 19; both of these periods were late in the day. She continues:

As the female spent the greater part of her time on the nest, the male brought most of the food during the first six days. Flies nnd small larvae were the main diet. One large larva or from two to four smaller ones were brought at one time so that each trip represented a fairly constant quantity of food. * * * Sometimes one parent did nil the feeding but more often the food was divided and both fed, placing all of it in the mouth of one young bird then removing bits which they gave to others. Very rarely did the female eat any of the food brought by her mate.

After feeding both birds would look expectantly at the nest. When a mass of excreta appeared it was promptly seized and consumed or carried away. In most cases the female secured it but evidently there was some competition between the parents for this privilege. During the last few days of the nesting period excreta were carried off and the nature of its disposal is unknown.

The six young hatched on July 2; the growth of the young was uniform; on July 6 pinfeathers were through the skin, and on the 11th the feathers were out of the sheaths.

They were last seen in the nest in the late afternoon of the 15th. That evening they were out of the nest but nearby. Next morning a hawk was shot near the nest site and was reported to have been attacking young birds. This may account for the fact that hut three of the brood were seen on the 17th, with the two parent birds.

Between July 16 and August 3 the family of three young with one or both parents was often seen about the woodpile and house of a local family about 300 yards from the nest site. * * * During the first two weeks out of the nest the young birds seemed to make little effort to find food for themselves hut waited until the parent birds brought food and placed it in their mouths. Sometimes the old birds would utter a twittering chirp when food was found, whereupon one or more young would go to the parent to receive it.

Plumages: Dr. Dwight (1900) describes the juvenal plumage mainly as follows: “Above, hair-brown streaked with black, the edgings of the back pale grayish wood-brown. * * * Below, creamy buff, palest anteriorly, streaked on the throat and breast rather broadly and on the sides faintly with clovebrown. Indistinct superciliary line and orbital ring buffy white; auriculars wood-brown.”

An incomplete postjuvenal molt, which involves the contour plumage but not the wings or the tail, occurs mainly in August. This produces a first-winter plumage, which is practically indistinguishable from that of the adult. Dr. Dwight describes this as similar to the juvenal plumage, but “darker above with less obvious streaking and deeper pinkish buff below, the streaking heavier, forming a pectoral band and extending to the flanks; an immaculate pale buff chin. The superciliary line extends behind the eye as a whitish band.” Ridg-way (1904) says that the young in the first autumn and winter are “similar to winter adults, but upper parts decidedly brown and superciliary stripe and under parts rather deeper brownish buff, with streaks on chest, etc., less sharply defined.”

Dr. Dwight (1900) says that the first nuptial plumage is “acquired by a partial prenuptial moult, in April, involving most of the body plumage which has suffered much from wear and become darker above with the buff tints nearly lost below. The extent of the fading is surprising. The new plumage is buff tinged, but wear during the breeding season produces a black and white streaked bird, the buffs being wholly lost through fading.” Ridgway (1904) says of this first nuptial plumage: “The species breeds in this plumage, which is very different from the fully adult suniuner diess, * * * upper parts grayish, as in summer adults, but superciliary stripe and under parts paler (dull pale buffy or dull buffy white) than in winter adults, the chest, sides, and flanks conspicuously streaked with dusky.”.

Adults have a complete postnuptial molt late in summer, mainly in August, and a partial prenuptial molt, mainly in April, involving most of the contour plumage. Fall birds in fresh plumage are browner above and more buffy below, and spring birds are grayer above and paler below, the spring female being less grayish above, more brownish, and more heavily spotted below than the male; but the two sexes are very much alike in all plumages.

Food: Forbush’s (1929) account of the food seems to cover the subject quite satisfactorily, as follows:

The food of the Pipit consists largely of Insects, small molluscs and crustaceans, small seeds and wild berries. More than 77 percent of its food has been found to consist of insects, of which over 64 percent are injurious. The seeds are chiefly weed seeds and waste grain. Professor Aughey found an average of 47 locusts and 4 other insects in the stomachs of some Nebraska specimens. The Pipit takes weevils, hugs, grasshoppers, crickets, plant-lice and spiders. It renders valuable service to the cotton growers of the South by destroying boll weevils. Examination of the stomachs of 68 birds taken in cotton fields showed that half of them had eaten 120 boll weevils. Mr. A. H. Howell says that Pipits pick up weevils throughout the winter, and in the spring they follow the plowman and capture both weevils and grubs. During an outbreak of grain aphids, these destructive insects constituted more than 70 per cent of the food of a Pipit. Mr. McAtee estimated that a flock of these birds then present must have destroyed at least a million of these pests daily.

According to Preble and McAtee (1923),”this species is reported by Ifanna to feed during its stay on the [Pribilof] islands in fall migration almost exclusively on maggots on the killing fields. However, the contents of two stomachs, collected August 31, 1914, and September 20, 1916, contained no trace of such maggots. The food in these gizzards consisted of 10 per cent vegetable matter (seeds of a violet, Viola langsdort ii) and 90 percent animal matter. The components of the animal food were beetles (ground beetles, Pterostiohus sp.; and weevils, Lophalophus inquinatus), 37 per cent; caterpillars, 33.5 percent; plant bugs (Irbisia sericans) , 8 per cent; spiders, 7.5 per cent; flies, 2.5 per cent; and Hymenoptera, 1.5 per cent.”

Dr. George F. Knowlton writes to me: “On October 5, 1942, W. B. Peay and I encountered a large flock of the American pipit, extending from the Petersboro foothills in Cache Valley to Collinston, Utah.

The birds were very abundant along the road, feeding among Russian thistle. Hundreds also were feeding in alfalfa and in the wheat stubble, many alighting in plowed fields. Eighteen were collected and an examination of their stomachs revealed: 1 thysanuran; 19 collembolans; 102 Homoptera, 70 being aphids (of which 14 were pea aphids) and 13 leafhoppers. Hemiptera constituted the largest group with 1,527 recognizable specimens, of which 986 were adult and 291 nyinphal false chinch bugs and 39 minds. The 133 beetles included 46 weevils of which 8 were alfalfa weevils, 1 a clover leaf weevil and 19 adult clover root curculios. Ten of the 29 1-Lymenoptera were ants; most of the 14 Diptera were adults. In addition to the insects there were 8 spiders and mites, 92 seeds and a number of stomachs contained varying amounts of plant fragments.”

Practically all the pipit’s food is obtained on the ground, in short grass or low-growing herbage, on bare ground or open mud flats, on drifted sea wrack along the coast, and on the salt or brackish marshes along tidal streams. On its alpine breeding ground it has been seen picking up insects on the snowbanks, where they had been blown by the wind. In all such places it walks along daintily on its long legs, picking up seeds or insects from the ground or herbage, sometimes running rapidly in pursuit of an escaping insect. Mr. Cogswell writes to me: “On January 11, 1942, at Dominguez Lagoon, south of Los Angeles, I observed pipits varying their usual ground foraging procedure by perching on the branches of tall weeds growing in the shallow water and reaching for insects (?) among heads of the plants.”

Mr. Trautman (1940) reports an interesting feeding reaction: “I saw some 20 individuals of this species on a peat island near the east end of Cranberry marsh. They faced a moderate breeze, and individuals from the group were flying into the air 3 or 4 feet, capturing moderate-sized flying beetles, and then dropping upon the island again. Usually 4 or 5 birds were in the air at once. The continual bobbing up and down was a strange sight, and somewhat resembled that of trout in a pool rising after insects.”

Lucien M. Turner says in his unpublished notes that about the whaling stations in northern Ungava, where the carcasses of the white whales are left to rot, incredible numbers of flies are attracted and their maggots “fairly make the earth creep.” Great numbers of pipits resort to these places to feast on these larvae. He also saw these birds wading in the shallow pools on the tidal flats, searching for aquatic worms and larvae.

Behavior: Pipits are essentially terrestrial birds and spend most of their time on the ground, in the fields, meadows, marshes, mud flats, beaches, or on the bare rocks of their summer haunts. Some writers have stated that they never alight anywhere else, but such is certainly not so. In Labrador we frequently saw them walking on the roofs of tilts, where codfish was drying, or alighting on the roofs of the fish houses and even on the roofs of the dwelling houses and on the rocks around them. On migrations, we of ten see them perched in trees, on wire fences or fence posts, on the ridge poles of houses, and on telephone or telegraph wires. Dr. Knowlton writes to me that, in the locality where he collected the birds referred to above, “thousands of pipits were present over an area 6 to 15 miles wide. The birds would fly ahead of the car, alighting on fence posts and fence wires near the approaching vehicle. However, when disturbed by a man walking along the road, large numbers would sometimes fly away and alight in the field at some distance from the collector. They seldom were much disturbed by the firing of a .22 rifle or a small 44×1 bird gun.”

When on the ground the pipit walks gracefully and prettily, with a nodding motion of the head, like a dove, and with the body swaying slightly from side to side as he moves quietly along; sometimes he runs more rapidly. His colors, soft grays and browns, match his surroundings so well, and he moves so quietly with an easy gliding motion, that before we realize that he is there he rises with a large flock of his fellows, as if exploding from nowhere, and they go flying off to some safer spot, twittering as they fly.

Francis H. Allen contributes the following note: “At one time I found the grass fairly ‘swarming’ with them at a fence corner, and one might have gone within two or three rods without seeing them, so closely did they creep along the ground. Here one of them stood on a large stone, spread his tail prettily, and scratched his right ear deftly with his right foot. The books seem to say that when on the ground they wag their tails constantly, but this is not literally true, for the tail is sometimes quiet as the bird walks, and extended straight behind, the whole slender bird presenting a peculiarly flat appearance as he steps daintily along. I thought that the tail was more constantly wagged when the bird was standing than when he walked.”

Observers differ as to the amount of tail wagging and when it occurs, but the pipit belongs to the wagtail family and must indulge in a certain amount of it. Audubon (1841) stated that the pipit wags its tail when it stops walking; Forbush (1929) says “almost constantly moving the tail”; and others have referred to it as a constant habit. Probably there is some individual variation in the habit between different birds, or at different times in the same individual. Milton P. Skinner (1928) watched particularly for this habit in North Carolina and found that it was not a constant one. He noted that “their bodies and tails swung from side to side in time with each step,” and says:

In every case this sidewise movement of the tail was an accompaniment of the body movement, and I did not see a single Pipit move its tall 8i40,ctse ladependently of the body. But I found there was another movement of the tail, up and down, that was sometimes made. Of one hundred and forty birds watched on January 28, 1927, some tipped their tails sip and down rapidly while walking and while resting on the ground hut many of them did not. Ten days later, I noted that only a few of these pipits moved their tails up and down, and that even these movements were noticeable only when the birds alighted after flight, and then there were only two to five movements. On March 1, 1927, I observed that when these birds stopped walking they moved their tails more or less regularly, bat the motion was not noticeable while they walked, and disappeared altogether when they ran.

The pipit’s flight is buoyant and undulating, powerful and swift, but rather erratic, as if the bird were undecided where to go or to stop. A large flock of pipits in flight is an interesting sight; they rise suddenly and unexpectedly from almost underfoot, those nearest first and then rank after rank progressively, as if bursting out of the earth; all join into one big flock before our astonished eyes and go sweeping off in a loose, undulating bunch, some rising and some falling in a confusing mass, like so many swirling snowflakes. They swing in a wide circle over the field and back again, swoop downward as if about to alight, then off again as if undecided, and finally drop out of sight on the brown earth in the distance, or perhaps return again and settle near the spot from which they started.

Dr. Witmer Stone (1937) thus describes the actions of a large flock of pipits on a burnt-over area:

After circling in a large arc they came drifting hack and settled down near where they were before. Several times later they flushed but always returned to the burnt area. By watching exactly where they alighted I was able to detect them scattered all over the ground, about one bird to each square foot, where thickest. Their backs had a distinct olive east in the strong light but the streaks on the under parts were only seen clearly when the birds were breast on. They all walked deliberately or sometimes took half a dozen steps in rapid succession, almost a run, though less regular. They all moved in the same general direction and as I moved parallel with them I could see them pressing straight ahead through time grassy spots and between the grass tufts and the stems of the bushes that had escaped the fire. They kept their heads pretty well down on the shoulders and leaned forward, dabbing at the ground with the bill, to one stde or the other, apparently picking up scattered seeds of grasses and sedges. The tail was carried parallel with the ground or tilted up a trifle while the tips of the wings hung Just below its base. The tail moved a little as the bird advanced but there was no distinct tilting as in the Palm Warbler or the Water-Thrush.

Voice: The American pipit is not a gifted songster, but the full song as heard on the breeding grounds is rather pleasing. It sometimes sings a weaker suggestion of this song during its spring migration in April and May. Dr. Harrison F. Lewis has sent me the following note on this song: “Pipits sing a good deal when passing Quebec, P. Q., in the spring migration. Here the song is commonly uttered while the birds are on the ground, but I have heard them sing from a tree, in which they perched freely. I do not appear to have any record of this species singing while in flight. The song is simple, but pleasant and attractive. It sounds like ke-ts~e, 1ce-ts~e, ke-tst~e, /ce-tsa~e, ke-ts~e, tr-r-r-r-r-r-r, ke-tse~e, ke-ts~e, ke-ts~e, tr-r-r-r-r-r-r, lee-ts~e, etc., and is apparently of indefinite duration. Sometimes the little trills are introduced into it frequently, at other times sparingly. The song is not thin, like that of the black and white warbler, but pretty and tinkling, though rather weak.”

The song-flight has been described under courtship, and the flightsong, as heard on the breeding grounds, is described in the following notes from 0. J. Murie: “The pipits were generally shy. When I approached one he would fly off with a sharp tree-seep, tree-seep, tree-seeseep, then the impulse to sing would come over him and he would flutter his wings and go through his performance. The song was usually a repetition of syllables, see-see-see-see-see : : , a peculiar resonant kr accompanying and barely preceding each see, a quality impossible to describe adequately. This appeared to be the commonest form of the song. Sometimes it was varied, the notes being almost 2syllabled, as tsr-ee , tsr-ee, tsr-ee, tsr-ee : : , and again sounding like ter-ee-a, ter-ee-a, ter-ee-a : : . Often it was a quite different form, a clear gliding swit-swit-swit-swit : : , or a little more prolonged swee-swee-swee-swee : : : : . Frequently a bird would break off on one form of the song and finish on another. The song was usually given on the wing, soaring upward to a height of about a hundred feet, then fluttering downward, finally sailing down to a rock with wings set and raised, and tail elevated. All this time the bird would sing his repetition of the same note, sometimes keeping it up after alighting.”

The note that we hear on the fall migration, or in winter, is very short and simple, suggesting the name pipit. F. H. Allen (MS.) says of the flock he was watching: “The birds got up a few at a time generally, uttering as they arose a musical wit-wit, or wit-wit-wit-wit, with the accent, I should say, on the last syllable. ‘When they were well a-wing, their note was a single, short p’ro~t, very pleasing to the ear.”

Mr. Cogswell contributes the following comparison of the notes of two species that are found along our shores and are likely to be confused: “The usual flight call note of the pipit is distinctive of this species, and helpful in separating a distant flying flock from horned larks inhabiting similar areas and with somewhat similar calls. The pipit’s note is a sharp tsip: tsip, tspi-it, or just trip: trip-it; the lark’s is lower in pitch and much more rolling, not given so sharply: thus, sleek, slik-seeezik, or slik-sleesik, or just a sleek, sslile, slik.”

Field marks: The American pipit is a plainly colored, gray and brownish bird with no conspicuous markings, except the white outer tail feathers; and even these are not distinctive, for several other birds have them, notably the juncos, the vesper sparrow, and, to a less extent, the longspurs. The juncos are not often seen in the haunts of the pipit, and if they were, the color patterns of the different juncos are quite distinctive. The sparrow and longspurs are not so slender as the pipit; they have short, conical bills, and they hop rather than run. The white tail feathers of the pipit show only in flight, but its slender form and sharp bill, together xvith its habit of walking or running, the nodding of its head, and the frequent up-and-down motion of its comparatively long tail should distinguish it from the others.

Fall: As soon as the young are able to care for themselves the pipits gather into flocks and begin to drift away from their breeding grounds before the end of August. We begin to see them in New England in September, in flocks of varying sizes from a dozen to a hundred or more, mainly coastwise on the salt marshes, on the mud flats, or along the beaches, but often farther inland along tidal streams, in open fields, and on wind-swept hills. They are commoner here in fall than in spring and usually remain to enliven the brown and dreary landscape until the frosts of late November drive them farther south. By this time the eastern birds have entirely deserted their northern breeding grounds. In the meantime the western birds have drifted doxvn from their alpine heights, above timberline, and are spread out over the plains and lowlands. Migrating birds are often seen in enormous flocks, as some continue their migration beyond our borders into Mexico and beyond.

Winter: Although the American pipit extends its winter range as far south as Guatemala, most of them spend the winter within the limits of the United States, fairly commonly as far north as California and Ohio; farther north it is rarely seen in winter. Dr. Stone (1987) draws the following pen picture of winter pipits in New Jersey:

On some day of midwinter when there has been no blanket of snow such as sometimes covers the landscape, even at such a supposed ‘semi-tropic’ region as Cape May, we gaze over the broad monotonous expanses of ploived fields and conclude that here at least bird life Is absent. We contrast these silent brown stretches with the swamp edges and their bursts of sparrow conversation or with the old pasture fields where Meadowlarks are sputtering. But let us start to cross these apparently deserted fields and immediately with a weak dee-dee, dee-dee, a small brown bird flushes from almost beneath our feet, then another and another, displaying a flash of white feathers in the tall as they rise. In a moment they have settled again farther on and are lost to sight against the brown background as suddenly as they appeared. We advance again and now the ground before us seems fairly to belch forth birds, as with one accord, the whole flock takes wing, and with light, airy, undulating and Irregular flight, courses away over the fields, now clearly defined against the sky, now swallowed up in the an pervading brown of the laadscape.

In the sand hills of North Carolina Mr. Skinner (1928) saw pipits “only in the largest hay fields, winter-wheat fields, old cornfields where the stalks are all down, and in old cowpea fields.” He did not find them in plowed fields. In Florida it is a common winter resident, abundant in the more northern parts; we found it on the Kissimmee Prairie and on old fields and marshes elsewhere; A. H. Howell (1932) says that it is occasionally seen on sand dunes and sea beaches, M. G. Vaiden tells me that it occurs in Mississippi as a migrant in both spring and fall, and “occasionally in winter in great numbers. They are usually found on the slopes of the levee; I have noted flocks of at least 200 feeding on the levee.”

Mr. Cogswell (MS.) says of the winter status of the pipit in southern California: “This species is a common winter visitant in all suitable localities below snow level; I have found it most abundantly on wet pasturelands and in the fields bordering coastal marshes, but they are also present in any fields with short or no vegetation. On February 10, 1940, they were particularly abundant in the Chino Creek Valley and all over the nearby rolling hills, where flocks of hundreds foraged on the ground between the rows of growing grain, which completely hid them from view until they flew.”

Range: The species is circumpolar, breeding in Europe, Asia, and northern North America and wintering south to northern Africa, southern Asia, and Central America.

Breeding range: The breeding range of the American races of the pipit is in the Arctic-Alpine regions north to northern Alaska (Meade River, about 100 miles south of Point Barrow, and Collison Point); northern Yukon (Herschel Island) ; northern Mackenzie (Kittigazuit, Franklin Bay, and Coronation Gulf) ; southern Somerset Island (Fort Ross); northern Baflin Island (Arctic Bay and Ponds Inlet); and about 750 north latitude on the west coast of Greenland (Devils Thumb Island). East to west coast of Greenland (Devils Thumb Island and Upernivik) ; eastern Baffin Island (Eglinton Fjord, Cumberland Sound, and Frobisher Bay) ; Labrador (Port Burwell, Hebron, Okkak, and Battle Harbor) Newfoundland (Cape Norman, Twillingate, and Cape Bonavista). South to Newfoundland (Cape Bonavista and the Lewis Hills), southeastern Quebec (Grosse Isle, Magdalen Islands rarely; Mount Albert and Tablet op, Gasp~ Peninsula) ; northern Maine (summit of Mount Katahdin) ; northern Ontario (Moose Factory) ; northern Manitoba (Churchill) ; central Mackenzie (Artillery Lake and Fort Providence); southwestern Alberta (Banif National Park); western Montana (Glacier National Park, Big Snowy Mountains, and Bear Tooth Mountains); Wyoming (Big Horn Mountains, Wind River Mountains, and the Medicine Bow Mountains); Colorado (Longs Peak, Mount Audubon, Seven Lakes, Pikes Peak, and Medano Creek); central northern New Mexico (Taos Mountains and Pecos Baldy) ; northeastern Utah (Uintah Mountains) ; central Idaho (Salmon River Mountains); and northern Oregon (Wallowa Mountains and, possibly, Mount Hood); has also been found in summer near the summit of Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, Calif., but not surely breeding. West to Oregon (Mount Hood) ; the Cascades of Washington (Moimnt St. Helens, Mount Adams, and Mount Rainier) ; British Columbia (mountains near Princeton, near Doch-da-on Creek, Summit, and Atlin; southwestern Yukon (Burwash Landing and Tecpee Lake); and the Aleutian Islands and western Alaska (Frosty Peak, Unalaska, the Near Islands, Nunivak Island, Wales, Kobuk River, and Meade River); has been found also on St. Lawrence Island.

Winter range: The pipit occurs in winter north to southwestern British Columbia (southern Vancouver Island, occasionally) ; western Washington (Tacoma, Nisqually Flats, and Vancouver); Oregon (Portland, Corvallis, and along the Malbeur River); Utah (Ogden Valley, Utah Lake, and St. George) ; central to southern Arizona (Fort Whipple, Fort-Verde, and Tucson); southern New Mexico (San Antonio and Carlsbad); southern and eastern Texas (Fort Clark, Kerrville, Austin, Waco, and Commerce) ; occasionally central Arkansas (Van Buren); northern Louisiana (Shreveport and Monroe); Tennessee, uncommon (Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Johnson City) ; and southern Virginia (Blacksburg, Naruna, and Virginia Beach) ; occasionally north to northern Ohio (Huron and Painesville) New Jersey (Seaside Park) ; Long Island (Long Beach and Orient); Connecticut (Saybrook); and Massachusetts (Newburyport). East to the Atlantic Coast States from southern Virginia (Virginia Beach) to southern Florida (Fernandina, St. Augustine, and Daytona Beach, Kissimmee, and Key West rarely). South to Florida (Key West, Fort Myers, and St. Marks) ; the Gulf coast to southern Texas (Rockport and Brownsville); eastern Mexico (Rodriguez, Nuevo Le6n; Puebla; and Huajuapam, Oaxaca); Guatemala; and northern El Salvador (Volc6n de Santa Ana), the southernmost place that it has been recorded. West to Guatemala (Duefias) ; Oaxaca (Tehuantepec) Sinaloa (Mazatkin); Lower California (La Paz and San Quintin); the valleys and coast of California (La Jolla, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Napa, and Eureka); western Oregon (Coos Bay and Netarts) ; western Washington (Nisqually Flats) ; and southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The range as outlined applies to all the North American races, of which three are now recognized. The western pipit (A. s. paciflcu.s) breeds from southeastern Alaska through the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and in the Cascades to Oregon; the Rocky Mountain pipit (A. s. aUicola) breeds in the Rocky Mountain region from Montana to New Mexico; the eastern pipit (A. s. rabescens) breeds from Alaska to Greenland south to southern Yukon and Mackenzie to Quebec, Newfoundland, and Mount Katahdin, Maine. In winter the races are mingled.

Migration: Late dates of spring departure are: El Salvador: Volc~i.n de Santa Ana, April 16. Lower California: San Jose dcl Cabo, May 3. Sonora: Granados, May 6. Florida: Pensacola, April 27. Georgia: Athens, May 9. South Carolina: Charleston, April 22. North Carolina: Pea Island, May 16. District of Columbia: Washington, May 14. Pennsylvania: Erie, May 12. New York: Potter, May 16. Mississippi: Biloxi, April 29. Louisiana: Lobdell, May 2. Arkansas: Lake City, April 29. Kentucky: Bowling Green, May 8. Oberlin, May 24. Michigan: MeMillan, May 28. Ontario: Rossport, May 29. Missouri: St. Louis, May 2. Minnesota: Lake Vermillion, May 27. Texas: Somerset, May 1. Kansas: Onaga, May 23. Alberta: Genevis, May 26. British Columbia: Okanagan Landing, May 17.

Early dates of spring arrival are: District of Columbia: Washington, February 16. Pennsylvania: State College, February 28. New York: Ithaca, March 15. Massachusetts: Amherst, March 27. Maine: Auburn, May 2. New Brunswick: Chatham, May 6. Quebec: Kamouraska, May 6. Ohio: Oberlin, March 4. Ontario: London, May 1. Michigan: Detroit, March 31. Wisconsin: Milwaukee, April 20. Kansas: Lawrence, March 12. Nebraska: Hastings, March 10. South Dakota: Sioux Falls, March 27. North Dakota: Charlson, April 23. Manitoba: Aweme, April 15; Churchill, May 25. Saskatchewan: Eastend, April 21. Wyoming: Laramie, April 9. Utah: Brigham, April 4. Montana: I-Ielena, April 9. Alberta: Stony Plain, April 8. Mackenzie: Simpson, May 2. British Columbia: Chi lliwack, April 6. Alaska: Ketchikan, April 26; Fort Kenai, May 6.

Late dates of fall departure are: Alaska: Wainwright, September 28. British Columbia: Comox, November 9. Mackenzie: Simpson, October 16. Alberta: Glenevis, October 4. Saskatchewan: Eastend, October 16. Montana: Fortine, October 27. Wyoming: Laramie, November 6. Manitoba: Aweme, October 28. North Dakota: Argusville, October 28. South Dakota: Lake Poinsett, November 2. Nebraska Gresham, November 1. Kansas: Onaga, November 25. Minnesota: Minneapolis, October 31. Wisconsin: North Freedom, November 1. Illinois: Chicago. November 3. Michi gan: Sault Ste. Marie, NovemBer 8. Ontario: Toronto, Novcmbcr 13. Ohio: Youngstown, November 22. Quebec: Montreal, November 4. Maine: Machias, November 2. Massachusetts: Harvard, November 9. New York: New York, November 27. District of Columbia: Washington, December 23.

Early dates of fall arrival are: Alberta: Glenevis, August 19. Montana: Missoula, September 4. Minnesota: Hallock, September 4. Wisconsin: Madison, September 19. Ontario: Ottawa, September 9. Michigan: Blaney, September 19. Illinois: Hinsdale, September 14. Kentucky: Lexington, October 10. Tennessee: Memphis, October 10. Mississippi: EllisvilIe, October 19. Louisiana: New Orleans, October 10. Massachusetts: Danvers, September 14. New York: Orient, September 2. Pennsylvania: Dovlestown, September 9. District of Columbia: Washington, September 23. Virginia: Wytheville, October 24. North Carolina: Greensboro, October 17. South Carolina: Sullivans Island, September 10. Georgia: Round Oak, October 16. Florida: Fort Myers, September 26. Texas: Somerset, October 7. Chihuahua: Chihuahua, October 9; Lower California, San Andr6s, September 21.

Very few pipits have been banded, and the 10 recovery records are all of birds retrapped at the place of banding one or two years later.

Casual records: In November 1848 a flock visited Bermuda, from which two birds were shot, the date of one specimen being given as November 26. The American pipit has been twice collected on the island of Helgoland, an immature on November 11, 1851, and an adult on May 17, 1870. An immature bird was collected on September 30, 1910, on the island of St. Kilda, Outer Hebrides, Scotland.

Egg dates: Labrador: 21 records, June 10 to July 23; 12 records, June 18 to 30, indicating the height of the season.

Alaska: 10 records, June 8 to 28. Colorado: 12 records, June 22 to July 26; 9 records, June 25 to 30.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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