Many have never heard of such a small bird as the dipper. Of course, her appearance is not very noticeable, but her character is brave, because the bird is not afraid to plunge into the icy water. Let’s try to understand all the nuances of the life of the dipper, having studied its external features, places of permanent residence, food preferences, bird character and features of the mating season.
Origin of the species and description
The dipper is also called the water sparrow or water thrush. Feathered belongs to the order of passerines and the family of olya. This family includes birds of medium size, the length of their body ranges from 18 to 20 cm. Dippers have a rather stocky build, a small tail and very long limbs. leathery membrane, the same valve made of leather covers the ear passages. All these devices are necessary for birds to make it more comfortable to dive. The plumage of the olyadidae is quite densely stuffed, closely adjacent to the body. This sparrow-like detachment includes one single genus of the same name “dipper”, which has five varieties of these birds.
- common dipper;
- brown dipper;
- red-throated dipper;
- American dipper;
- white-headed dipper.
It is worth noting that the first two listed varieties of dippers live in our country: common and brown. We will describe the common dipper in more detail a little later, it will be the main character of the entire article, and we will give brief characteristics to the rest of the species.
The brown dipper has small dimensions, its weight ranges from 70 to 80 grams. By the name of the bird, it is clear that it is completely painted in rich brown color. This dipper is the owner of a rather hard and dense plumage, a sharp beak, short wings and a tail. The bird inhabits the coast of the Sea of Okhotsk, the Kuril Islands, Japan, Korea, the eastern part of China, Indochina, the Himalayas.
The American dipper has chosen Central America and the western part of the North American mainland. The bird is distinguished by a dark gray color, in the head area the color changes to brownish, former feathers may be present on the eyelids, the length of the bird’s body is about 17 cm, and the weight is only about 46 grams. This bird is very long-legged, because it often moves in fast-flowing mountain streams.
The white-headed dipper inhabited the South American continent (Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia). The feathered business black and white color. A white cap and a solemn light bib stand out in contrast on a black suit.
The red-throated dipper, like its previous relative, was registered in South America, lives in the Andes mountains near stormy rivers and streams, occurs at altitudes up to 2 .5 km, nesting in alder thickets. This bird is distinguished by the red color of the throat, slightly turning into the chest area, the rest of its plumage is gray-brown.
Appearance and Features
Having briefly described the four varieties of dipper, we will characterize in more detail the external features and other features of the common dipper. The bird was nicknamed the water sparrow or thrush precisely because it is similar to these birds in size. In terms of size, the common dipper is ahead of the sparrow, having a body length of 17 to 20 cm and a weight ranging from 50 to 85 grams. Bird wings in a span reach a length of 25 to 30 cm.
The figure of the dipper is quite strong and stocky, the bird has a dense physique. This long-legged feathered person has short wings and a small, slightly upturned tail. The main tone of the dipper’s attire is rich brown. In the area of the neck, breast and upper abdomen, a solemn white shirt-front stands out in contrast. On the top and back of the head the color of feathers — dark brown, and a dark gray color scheme is visible on the back, tail and upper wings. If you take a closer look at the bird, you will notice that its back is covered with slightly noticeable ripples, and the very tips of the bird’s feathers are black.
It is worth noting that there is no particularly strong gender difference among dippers, males look identical to females, but the latter are a little smaller and weigh a little less, although you won’t notice this right away, but their color is the same. Juveniles are lighter in color than adults. Young people are distinguished by pronounced variegation of the dorsal part. The white color on the neck smoothly turns into a gray abdomen, and the back and wings have a grayish-brown tint. There is no cere at the base of the dipper’s beak, and the beak itself is very strong and slightly flattened laterally.
An interesting fact: Dipper is the only passerine that can perfectly dive and navigate underwater even when it is very cold outside (up to minus forty degrees). The bird obtains its livelihood by deftly moving along the bottom of the reservoirs.
Due to the fact that the dipper is such a brave swimmer and diver, nature has endowed it with the characteristic features necessary for diving. The bird has a special leathery fold at the ear opening, which closes when the dipper dives, thereby blocking the path of water so that it does not enter the ear canal. The same leathery valves are present in the area of the nostrils. The dipper has a very large coccygeal gland, which is ten times larger than the same glands of waterfowl.
Thanks to this, the bird has a good fat reserve, with which it carefully lubricates the feathers so that they do not get wet from the ice water. Extended bird limbs help to deftly walk along the rocky shore and bottom. Dipper’s paws are four-toed, each paley is equipped with a sharp claw, one of them looks back, and all the others look forward.
Interesting fact: Dipper has a round lens and a flat cornea, due to what he can see perfectly when immersed in the water column.
Where does the dipper live?
It is not for nothing that the dipper was called a diver or a water sparrow, this bird prefers to live near water bodies, mainly with a fast current, because in winter they almost do not freeze. The common dipper has taken a fancy to the mountainous and hilly ranges of both Europe and Asia, with the exception of the northeastern part of Siberia. The bird lives in the southwestern and northwestern parts of the African continent (on the territory of the Atlas Mountains).
The feathered one also settled on the following islands:
- Great Britain;
In the vastness of Eurasia, the dipper has chosen:
- States of Asia Minor;
- Northern and Eastern Iran;
- Kola Peninsula and territories slightly to the north.
As for our state, the common dipper settled in the mountain ranges of the south and east of Siberia, near Murmansk, on the territory of Karelia. The birdie has chosen the Caucasus, the Urals, Central Asia. Dippers are practically not seen in flat open areas, only vagrant nomadic specimens can visit them. In the middle part of Siberia, the bird settles in the Sayan mountain ranges. On the territory of the Sayano-Shushensky Reserve, the dipper lives in the coastal zones of streams and rivers, spreading to mountainous tundra regions. Dipper was also seen in the waters of the Yenisei, in those places where there are ice-free polynyas in winter.
Interesting fact: Ornithologists believe that in winter a significant number of birds live in those places of the Sayan Mountains where karst relief is developed. There are rivers here that take their sources from underground lakes, even in frost they are quite warm, the water in them has a temperature of 4 to 8 degrees with a plus sign.
The dipper arranges its nesting places in the coastal zones of taiga rivers, which are covered with rocky ground. It likes to build nests in wet and deep canyons, rocky gorges near waterfalls and springs, which are not covered by ice due to the rapid current.
What does the dipper eat?
As already noted, the dipper skillfully dives even in very cold water at a high sub-zero ambient temperature. The bird does this in order to find food for itself. More often, the dipper dives in the winter season, when it is almost impossible to find a snack under the snow cover. Having emerged from the icy water, the dipper is not afraid of severe frosts, she calmly shakes off her feathers and chirps lyrically, bouncing to the beat. Even Vitaly Bianchi called her a “crazy bird” precisely because of this extraordinary ability.
An interesting fact: Dipper can not only dive, but also easily run along the bottom, she manages without oxygen for almost a full minute, during which it runs from 10 to 20 meters in icy water, plunging to a depth of a meter, and occasionally even deeper.
The common dipper is not averse to a bite :
- larvae of various insects;
- fry and small small fish;
- caviar of bottom fish;
- dead insects that have fallen into the water.
Dippers do not like to hunt in sluggish reservoirs, where there are heavily overgrown banks. The fish menu of the bird prevails during the winter season, even the dipper itself begins to specifically exude the aroma of fish. Dippers get their food not only in the underwater kingdom, the birds also look for food on the shore, taking out insects hidden under stones, in order to find food, birds also examine coastal algae.
Interesting fact: The owners of watermills have seen how, on very frosty days, dippers peck at congealed fat, which is used to lubricate the bushings of the mill wheel.
Dippers are sedentary birds, but some (not at all numerous individuals) are nomadic. Settled couples have their own plot of land, approximately two kilometers long. Even in the most severe winter, the birds remain faithful to their site, beyond which lie the possessions of their neighbors, so it often happens that mountain streams and streams are abundantly populated by pairs of dippers from source to the very end.
Nomadic birds fly in winter to places where there are polynyas on rapidly flowing rivers, where they cluster in small flocks. Some dippers tend to fly south, and with the advent of spring they return to already familiar places, where they begin to restore their last year’s nests. During the nesting period, the issue of observing the boundaries of bird territories becomes acute, because. water sparrows compete for food. Each bird has its own viewing stones, from which it keeps an eye on potential prey. Because of such stones, quarrels often arise between neighbors who encroach on other people’s property.
Already at dawn, the dipper sings its songs and actively hunts, in between times there are skirmishes with relatives who fly into other people’s possessions. Having dealt with violators of the borders, the birds continue to search for food, and in strong daytime heat they prefer to hide in the shade of rocks or between boulders. In the evening hours, the dipper starts to become active again, getting his supper, diving into streams, rivers and continuing to sing his tune. At dusk, the birds go to sleep, their secluded sleeping places are marked with bird droppings. Inclement weather is not in favor of the dipper, the water becomes cloudy, so finding a snack is much more difficult. If the rains drag on, the dipper flies to quiet bays with coastal vegetation, where it continues to feed, looking for yummy among the branches and other growth.
We have already mentioned the swimming and diving talents of the dipper; the feathered one also flies quite dexterously, but prefers not to soar high. The little dipper is very brave and a little reckless, it can throw itself into a stormy waterfall or whirlpool, is not afraid to ford the river, swims quickly and well, working its slightly rounded wings like oars. The brave bird swiftly cuts the powerful streams of the waterfall with its wing. Dipper can go under water gradually, and sometimes it dives in one fell swoop, like an athlete from a tower. To snuggle closer to the bottom surface, she spreads her wings in a special way, and folding them, instantly jumps out of the water.
Interesting fact: There are legends about the fearless dipper, northern peoples have a tradition to hang a dipper’s wing over a crib. They believe that this amulet will make children hardy, they will not care about any frosts, children will never be afraid of water and will grow up as excellent fishermen.
Dippers sing their roulades all the time, the most talented in this regard are males, whose songs are more melodic, sometimes distinguished by quiet clicking and crackling. Knowledgeable people compare bird trills with a softly murmuring mountain stream running through rocky terrain. The dipper can also produce hoarse sounds resembling a squeak, but it does so infrequently. The dipper sings very merrily and wonderfully in the spring, when the days are fine and sunny, but even the frosts are not able to silence this little bird, which continues its melody even in the harsh winter.
Social structure and reproduction
Dippers become sexually mature in their first year of life. Their wedding season is early – March. At this time, the birds make mating games, beautifully filled with melodic trills, then each pair occupies its own territory. Coition occurs in the middle of the first spring month, but dippers often produce offspring twice in a one-year period.
The birds arrange their nests together, building it:
- in rocky crevices and niches ;
- between large roots;
- on cliffs where turf overhangs;
- under bridges and on low trees;
- in depressions between stones;
- in abandoned burrows;
- on the ground.
To build a nest, dippers use moss, plant roots, dry foliage, algae; it can be spherical or conical in shape, and the inlet resembles a tube. The nesting area of the dipper is quite massive and thick-walled, it can reach 40 cm in diameter, and a convenient entrance hole has a diameter of nine centimeters (for comparison, the starling entrance hole does not exceed 5 cm in diameter). Birds are skillfully engaged in camouflage of their shelter, which is not so easy to see.
The clutch of a dipper can have from 4 to 7 eggs, but on average there are five. They are quite large in size, the shell is snow-white. According to one opinion, the expectant mother is engaged in incubation, which the partner feeds. According to another point of view, the birds incubate the young in turn. The incubation period takes from 18 to 20 days.
Interesting fact: The female hatches her offspring so carefully, she will not leave the clutch even if she sees a threat, so at this moment she can be taken from the nest directly into her arms.
It is often very humid in nesting sites, so some eggs rot, and only a couple (rarely three) chicks are born. Both parents feed the babies for about 20 – 25 days, then the chicks leave the nest and hide in stones and overgrowth, because. not yet able to take off. Parents teach the babies to get food, later the children leave their father’s house, and the mother and father prepare for the appearance of a new brood. Already in the next spring, young dippers begin to look for mates. In the natural environment, birds are able to live for about seven years, which helps them with excellent eyesight and high sensitivity of hearing, sharpness and caution.
Natural enemies of dippers
Dipper does not differ in large dimensions, therefore, it has plenty of enemies in natural wild conditions. Small chicks, inexperienced young and bird eggs most often fall into the claws, beaks and paws of ill-wishers. Mature bird individuals can get away from the enemy by diving deeper or soaring up. In the depths of the waters, dippers hide from feathered predators attacking from above, and in the heights, birds wait out the danger from terrestrial animals that are not afraid to swim in order to catch a water sparrow.
The enemies of dippers can be considered:
- common cats;
- birds of prey;
The most insidious and most dangerous for birds are rats, which prey, first of all, on babies that have not yet left the nesting place. Rats can even get into those nests that are located in the crevices of sheer cliffs, covered with streams of waterfalls. Other animals cannot get such shelters, and rats are quite capable of climbing there.
Feeling threatened, a mature dipper first tries to hide in the water column or flies up, flying from one stone to another in order to get away from the enemy. If the enemy does not retreat and continues a dangerous pursuit, the bird, keeping at a distance of 500 steps from him, abruptly soars up and flies away from the habitable place.
Population and species status
There is evidence that the total population of the common dipper ranges from 700 thousand to 1.7 million mature individuals. In 2018, the International Union for Conservation of Nature listed this little bird as a species of Least Concern. In other words, the state of the bird population does not cause any concern among environmental organizations, so dippers do not need special conservation measures, these birds are not on the red lists.
Of course, the common dipper is not threatened with extinction, but the number of these birds is slowly declining, which cannot but worry. The main reason for this decline is the pollution of water bodies as a result of human activities. Due to the fact that a person releases industrial waste into the rivers, a lot of fish, vegetation and other living creatures that feed on water sparrows die. It is for this reason that the number of olya species has begun to decline in the territories of Germany and Poland.
In other regions (for example, in Southern Europe), dippers also became much smaller, this was influenced by the active work of hydroelectric power plants and powerful irrigation systems that change the speed of rivers. The dipper is not classified as a synanthropic species of birds, but the bird does not experience much fear of people, they often began to notice dippers near human dwellings in mountain resort areas. People should think about their turbulent and sometimes destructive activities in order to prevent this small and brave bird from getting on the pages of the Red Books.
In the end, I would like to add that the dipper can be called a celebrity. Not only popular beliefs are formed about her, Vitaly Bianchi mentioned her in his creations, and Nikolai Sladkov devoted a whole children’s story to the bird, called “The Song under the Ice.” And the dipper has been acting as a symbol and national bird of Norway for more than a decade (since 1960). With her fearlessness in the face of the icy water element and her excellent ability to navigate underwater, the dipper delights many, it was not for nothing that she was dubbed a diver.