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American Pipit
Anthus rubescens
Anatomy of a Bird

The American Pipit is a small, slender, drab bird of open country. Although it appears similar to sparrows, it can be distinguished by its thin bill and its habit of bobbing its tail.

Range Map My Photos Of This Bird
© 2003 Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Cool Facts Taxonomic Hierarchy Illustration
  • The American Pipit was long known as the Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta ), a wide ranging species with seven subspecies occurring from the shores of Great Britain and Scandinavia, and the high mountains of Europe and central Asia, to North America. Recent taxonomic studies, however, have shown that the three North American subspecies, along with the most eastern Asiatic one, are best regarded as a distinct species.
  • In an alpine population in the Beartooth Mountains of Wyoming, a snow storm buried 17 American Pipit nests for 24 hours. All of the nestlings that were 11 days or older survived, but only a few of the younger ones did.
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
     Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Motacillidae
Genus: Anthus
Species: Anthus rubescens



Photos taken from:
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by David Allen Sibley




Adult Description

  • Medium-sized songbird.
  • Brown and striped.
  • Thin bill.
  • White outer tail feathers.
  • Bobs tail up and down.

Immature Description

Similar to adult.
Song a series of high, jangling notes. Call a quick, dry "pip-it."

  • Breeding Location: Mountains, Marshes, freshwater, Swamps, Grasslands
  • Breeding Type: Monogamous, Solitary nester
  • Breeding Population: Widespread
  • Egg Color: Gray white with brown markings
  • Number of Eggs: 3 - 7
  • Incubation Days: 13 - 15
  • Egg Incubator: Female
  • Nest Material: Often no nest materials, but will sometimes use sticks and grass.
  • Migration: Migratory
  • Condition at Hatching: Downy and helpless.
Body Head Flight
  • Length Range: 17 cm (6.5 in)
  • Weight: 23 g (0.8 oz)
  • Size: Small (5 - 9 in)
  • Color Primary: Brown, Gray, Buff
  • Underparts: Buff with faint brown streaking.
  • Upperparts: Gray-brown
  • Back Pattern: Striped or streaked
  • Belly Pattern: Solid
  • Breast Pattern: Striped or streaked
  • Bill Shape: All-purpose
  • Eye Color: Dark brown.
  • Head Pattern: Eyeline, Plain, Streaked, Eyering, Malar or malar stripe
  • Crown Color: Gray-brown
  • Forehead Color: Gray-brown
  • Nape Color: Gray-brown
  • Throat Color: Buff
  • Cere color: No Data
  • Flight Pattern: Swift flight on series of rapidly beating wings.
  • Wingspan Range: 25-28 cm (10-11 in)
  • Wing Shape: Rounded-Wings
  • Tail Shape: Fan-shaped Tail
  • Tail Pattern: Barred
  • Upper Tail: Dark gray-brown
  • Under Tail: BUFF
  • Leg Color: Black


Food Habitat
Walks or runs while pecking at ground or gleaning from low vegetation, frequently changing direction; occasional short flights from ground or boulders to pursue prey. Feeds in large flocks in fall and winter. Insects and seeds. Breeds in arctic and alpine tundra. In migration and winter uses coastal beaches and marshes, stubble fields, recently plowed fields, mudflats, and river courses.
Other Names Similar Species Conservation Status
  • Water Pipit
  • Pipit d’Amérique (French)
  • Bisbita de Agua Americana; Alondra acuática (Spanish)
  • Sprague's Pipit has pale legs, pale face, buffy upperparts with strong streaks, and unstreaked flanks.
  • Rare Red-throated Pipit much more heavily striped above and below, and usually has reddish throat.
  • Vesper Sparrow has thick bill, dark cheek patch, and heavier chest streaking.
May be declining.
Video Sources Used To Construct This Page:


  • Verbeek, N. A. M. and P. Hendricks. 1994. American Pipit (Anthus rubescens). In The Birds of North America, No. 95 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists’ Union.

All photos © 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.
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