American Dipper Bird (Cinclus mexicanus)

American dipper

The American dipper bird, also known as Cinclus mexicanus, water ouzel, or water dippers, is a small, grayish-brown water ouzel with white eyes that can be found only in certain areas of North America.

The range of the American dipper bird extends as far north as Alaska and Canada and as far south as northern Washington and northern Utah, but it’s especially common in mountainous areas in northwestern North America, such as the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and western Canada.

Cinclus mexicanus is one of the smaller species found in North America, and an active inhabitant of mountain streams and lakes found primarily in the western United States and Canada.

The American dipper bird is known as water ouzel because it feeds on aquatic invertebrates. It lives along the west coast of North America from the Aleutian Islands to central Mexico, and in the southwestern US states of California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. It lives in shallow streams or rivers at high elevations during the breeding season but moves down to lower elevations when not breeding.


American dipper

The American dipper bird is a water dipper with a stocky, furry body. They get their name from the way they lower their head into streams and riverbeds to catch small fish, insects, or other prey. When not foraging for food, the birds will rest on rocks next to the water and make some of the loudest calls of any North American bird. The call itself is described as sounding like put-more-water-on.

American dipper scientific name

The scientific name of the American dipper bird is Cinclus mexicanus

Range and habitat

The range of the American dipper bird includes Alaska, Canada, the Rocky Mountains, and New England in the United States. This particular kind of water dipper is relatively small in size and can be found swimming in ponds and streams.

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You will usually find them in fast-flowing mountain streams and cold coastal streams on the west coast of North America and Central America.

American dipper size and weight

With a size that ranges from 16 to 18 cm (6.3 to 7 inches), the American dipper bird is not so big. As for weight, the American dipper bird weighs between 43 and 67 g (1.5 to 2.4 Oz) on average and has a wingspan of around 23 cm (9.1 inches)

Feathers and plumage

American dipper

The most distinguishing characteristic of this small songbird is its dark chest and white throat and belly. It has a tail that is edged in black. Both males and females have the same plumage coloration, but males tend to be slightly larger than females. Their legs are covered with feathers, which makes them appear much larger than they actually are.


An American dipper sheds all of its wing and tail feathers at the same time in late summer, and it only takes a few days for the new feathers to grow in. As soon as the new feathers come in, they immediately become oiled by natural oils from the bird’s skin and waterproof.

In contrast to most other birds, which keep their old plumage for a while after molting, most of an American dipper’s old plumage falls off when molting is complete. It will have some white feather tips on its head, neck, and underparts after molting that disappear within two weeks.

Nesting behavior

Dippers typically make their nests on inaccessible, vertical surfaces, often over running water. For example, they’ll make their nests on large boulders, cliff ledges, on fallen logs, under an overhanging dirt bank, or underneath a bridge or culvert. If provided with nesting boxes, they may choose to use them.

Diet and foraging

This species spends most of its time in or near the water and eats primarily aquatic insects, snails, fish eggs, and other small animals. They will also eat terrestrial invertebrates if necessary.

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The American dipper bird’s diet is mostly aquatic, feeding primarily on insects and other invertebrates. The fish make up the bulk of their diet; however, they also eat amphibians, mollusks, crustaceans, annelids, and leeches. The dippers forage underwater looking for prey that lives under stones or is buried in sand or mud.

American dipper song and vocal behavior

In the American Dipper’s environment, there is constant noise and movement, with a range of sound levels from quiet to “thunderously loud”; this impacts both the sender and receiver of messages, including both vocal and nonvocal ones.

An analysis of American dipper bird songs shows that Cinclus mexicanus exhibits at least five types of song patterns. One was a burst of noise, one was a series of repetitions, another was one high note followed by three lower notes and another started with a low note.

The most common pattern, comprising the majority of song types in this species, has 1-3 introductory notes, followed by a series of repetitions that progress to shorter ones, eventually ending in single repeated sounds.


American dipper

Four to five white eggs are laid per day. A typical clutch normally starts from March to May. Birds in good habitats will start as early as February, but those at high altitudes and near acidic streams start later, lay smaller clutches, and produce smaller broods. Pairs also don’t try to reproduce on these awful sites, the next time.

Females incubate the eggs for about 16 days, starting with the last egg. As a result, the whole brood hatches simultaneously. The females then brood the offspring for 12-13 days, but both parents feed the youngsters.

After leaving the nest, the young fledge at 20-24 days but are still fed for a week, becoming independent at 11-18 days after leaving. During this time the nest site may be used by family members to roost.

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About 10 days after the fledging of the first clutch, a second clutch is started. The age of the first breeding is one year, though males can sometimes take longer.


American dippers have a lifespan of around 7 years, with the oldest known individual living to at least 12 years old.

Movements and migration

The American Dipper shows two migratory patterns: nonmigratory and altitudinal migration (in-stream and inter-drainage). In the spring, it is not uncommon to see American Dippers in flocks of up to 20 birds at higher elevations.

They migrate down to the lower reaches of rivers where they forage for food, such as insects and larvae. In autumn, the birds move back up into the mountains, usually in September or October. They seem to make their choice of altitude based on water temperature.

Population status

Even though it appears the population is on the decline, the population is not decreasing at a rate high enough to be considered Vulnerable.

In fact, the population is so large that it cannot be deemed Vulnerable due to size as well (The population cannot be vulnerable if it is >10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). The evaluation of this species was assigned as Least Concern for these reasons.

Conservation and management

The American dipper is an aquatic bird found in North America and can also be found in parts of South America. The birds feed on small fish, insects, and other prey in shallow fresh water.

The population size has steadily declined from the 1800s to the 1900s but has been on the rise since 1970. There are a number of factors for this decline including development and pollution such as sewage runoff that has led to the eutrophication of their habitats and therefore food sources, which have been disappearing.

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