Dippers are members of the genus Cinclus in the bird family Cinclidae, named for their bobbing or dipping movements. They are unique among passerines for their ability to dive and swim underwater.

Cinclus mexicanus FWS
American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Muscicapoidea
Family: Cinclidae
Sundevall, 1836
Genus: Cinclus
Borkhausen, 1797
Cinclus distr
Distribution map

     White-throated dipper      Brown dipper      American dipper      White-capped dipper      Rufous-throated dipper

white-throated dipper

brown dipper

American dipper

white-capped dipper

rufous-throated dipper


Phylogeny of the dippers[1]


The genus Cinclus was introduced by the German naturalist Moritz Balthasar Borkhausen in 1797 with the white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus) as the type species.[2][3] The name cinclus is from the Ancient Greek word kinklos that was used to describe small tail-wagging birds that resided near water.[4]

Cinclus is the only genus in the family Cinclidae. The white-throated dipper and American dipper are also known in Britain and America, respectively, as the water ouzel (sometimes spelt "ousel") – ouzel originally meant the only distantly related but superficially similar Eurasian blackbird (Old English osle). Ouzel also survives as the name of a relative of the blackbird, the ring ouzel.[5]

The genus contains five species:[6]

A 2002 molecular phylogenetic study of the dippers looked at the DNA sequences of two mitochondrial genes. It found that the Eurasian white-throated dipper and brown dipper are sister species as are the South American white-capped dipper and rufous-throated dipper. The study also showed that the dipper family, Cinclidae, is most closely related to the thrush family, Turdidae.[1]


Dippers are small, chunky, stout, short-tailed, short-winged, strong-legged birds. The different species are generally dark brown (sometimes nearly black), or brown and white in colour, apart from the rufous-throated dipper, which is brown with a reddish-brown throat patch. Sizes range from 14–22 cm (5.5–8.7 in) in length and 40–90 g (1.4–3.2 oz) in weight, with males larger than females. Their short wings give them a distinctive whirring flight.[7][8][9] They have a characteristic bobbing motion when perched beside the water, giving them their name. While under water, they are covered by a thin, silvery film of air, due to small bubbles being trapped on the surface of the plumage.[8]

Distribution and habitat

Dippers are found in suitable freshwater habitats in the highlands of the Americas, Europe and Asia. In Africa they are only found in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. They inhabit the banks of fast-moving upland rivers with cold, clear waters, though, outside the breeding season, they may visit lake shores and sea coasts.[8]


Unlike many water birds, dippers are generally similar in form to many terrestrial birds (for example they do not have webbed feet), but they do have some morphological and physiological adaptations to their aquatic habits. Their wings are relatively short but strongly muscled, enabling them to be used as flippers underwater. They have dense plumage with a large preen gland for waterproofing their feathers. Relatively long legs and sharp claws enable them to hold on to rocks in swift water. Their eyes have well-developed focus muscles that can change the curvature of the lens to enhance underwater vision.[10] They have nasal flaps to prevent water entering their nostrils.[11]

The high haemoglobin concentration in their blood gives them a capacity to store oxygen greater than that of other birds, allowing them to remain underwater for thirty seconds or more,[8] whilst their basal metabolic rate is approximately one-third slower than typical terrestrial passerines of similar mass.[12] One small population wintering at a hot spring in Suntar-Khayata Mountains of Siberia feeds underwater when air temperatures drop below −55 °C (−67 °F).[13]



Dippers forage for small animal prey in and along the margins of fast-flowing freshwater streams and rivers. They perch on rocks and feed at the edge of the water, but they often also grip the rocks firmly and walk down them beneath the water until partly or wholly submerged. They then search underwater for prey between and beneath stones and debris; they can also swim with their wings. The two South American species swim and dive less often than the three northern ones.[14] Their prey consists primarily of invertebrates such as the nymphs or larvae of mayflies, blackflies, stoneflies and caddisflies, as well as small fish and fish eggs. Molluscs and crustaceans are also consumed, especially in winter when insect larvae are less available.[8]


Linear breeding territories are established by pairs of dippers along suitable rivers, and maintained against incursion by other dippers. Within their territory the pair must have a good nest site and roost sites, but the main factor affecting the length of the territory is the availability of sufficient food to feed themselves and their broods. Consequently, the length of a territory may vary from about 300 metres (1,000 feet) to over 2,500 metres (8,200 feet).[8]

Dipper nests are usually large, round, domed structures made of moss, with an internal cup of grass and rootlets, and a side entrance hole. They are often built in confined spaces over, or close to, running water. The site may be on a ledge or bank, in a crevice or drainpipe, or beneath a bridge. Tree sites are rare.[8]

The usual clutch-size of the three northern dipper species is four or five; those of the South American species is not well known, though some evidence suggests that of the rufous-throated dipper is two.[15] The incubation period of sixteen or seventeen days is followed by the hatching of altricial young which are brooded by the female alone for the next twelve to thirteen days. The nestlings are fed by both parents and the whole fledging period is about 20–24 days. Young dippers usually become independent of their parents within a couple of weeks of leaving the nest. Dippers may raise second broods if conditions allow.[8] The maximum recorded age from ring-recovery data of a white-throated dipper is 10 years and 7 months for a bird ringed in Finland.[16] The maximum age for an American dipper is 8 years and 1 month for a bird ringed and recovered in South Dakota.[17]


Dippers’ calls are loud and high-pitched, being similar to calls made by other birds on fast rivers; the call frequencies lying within a narrow range of 4.0–6.5 kHz, well above the torrent noise frequency of maximum 2 kHz.[18] Dippers also communicate visually by their characteristic dipping or bobbing movements, as well as by blinking rapidly to expose the white feathers on their upper eyelids as a series of white flashes in courtship and threat displays.[10]


Cinclus schulzii Tucuman 1
The rufous-throated dipper is considered Vulnerable by the IUCN

Dippers are completely dependent on fast-flowing rivers with clear water, accessible food and secure nest-sites. They may be threatened by anything that affects these needs such as water pollution, acidification and turbidity caused by erosion. River regulation through the creation of dams and reservoirs, as well as channelization, can degrade and destroy dipper habitat.[8]

Dippers are also sometimes hunted or otherwise persecuted by humans for various reasons. The Cyprus race of the white-throated dipper is extinct. In the Atlas Mountains dippers are claimed to have aphrodisiacal properties. In parts of Scotland and Germany, until the beginning of the 20th century, bounties were paid for killing dippers because of a misguided perception that they were detrimental to fish stocks through predation on the eggs and fry of salmonids.[8]

Despite threats to local populations, the conservation status of most dipper species is considered to be of least concern. The one exception, the rufous-throated dipper, is classified as vulnerable because of its small, fragmented and declining population which is threatened, especially in Argentina, by changes in river management.[19]


  1. ^ a b Voelker, Gary (2002). "Molecular phylogenetics and the historical biogeography of dippers (Cinclus)". Ibis. 144 (4): 577–584. doi:10.1046/j.1474-919X.2002.00084.x.
  2. ^ Borkhausen (1797). Deutsche Fauna, oder, Kurzgefasste Naturgeschichte der Thiere Deutschlands. Erster Theil, Saugthiere und Vögel (in German). Frankfurt am Main: Varrentrapp und Wenner. p. 300.
  3. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Greenway, James C. Jr, eds. (1960). Check-list of Birds of the World. Volume 9. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 374.
  4. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  5. ^ "ouzel". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2019). "Dippers, leafbirds, flowerpeckers, sunbirds". World Bird List Version 9.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  7. ^ Whistler, Hugh (2007). Popular Handbook of Indian Birds (4th ed.). London: British Museum Natural History. ISBN 1-4067-4576-6.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Tyler, Stephanie J.; Ormerod, Stephen J. (1994). The Dippers. London: Poyser. ISBN 0-85661-093-3.
  9. ^ Robbins, C.S.; Bruun, B.; & Zim, H.S. (1966). Birds of North America. Western Publishing Company: New York.
  10. ^ a b Goodge, W.R. (1960). "Adaptations for amphibious vision in the Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus)". Journal of Morphology. 107: 79–91. doi:10.1002/jmor.1051070106.
  11. ^ Ormerod, S.; Tyler, S. (2019). del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E. (eds.). "Dippers (Cinclidae)". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 11 February 2019. The text is identical to Volume 10 of the print edition published in 2005.
  12. ^ Murrish, David E. (1970). "Responses to temperature in the dipper, Cinclus mexicanus". Comparative Biochemical Physiology. 34 (4): 859–869. doi:10.1016/0010-406X(70)91009-1.
  13. ^ Dinets, V.; Sanchez, M. (2017). "Brown Dippers (Cinclus pallasi) overwintering at −65°C in Northeastern Siberia". Wilson Journal of Ornithology. 129 (2): 397–400. doi:10.1676/16-071.1.
  14. ^ Tyler, S.J. (1994). "The Yungas of Argentina: in search of Rufous-throated Dippers Cinclus schulzi" (PDF). Cotinga. 2: 38–41.
  15. ^ Salvador, S.; Narosky, S.; Fraga, R. (1986). "First description of the nest and eggs of the red-throated dipper in northwestern Argentina". Gerfaut. 76: 63–66.
  16. ^ "European Longevity Records". Euring. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  17. ^ "Longevity Records of North American Birds". United States Geological Survey. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  18. ^ J., Martens; Geduldig, G. (1990). "Acoustic adaptations of birds living close to Himalayan torrents". Proc. Int. 100 DO-G Meeting. Bonn: Current Topics Avian Biol. pp. 123–131.
  19. ^ BirdLife International (2017). "Rufous-throated Dipper Cinclus schulzii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 13 February 2019.

External links

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American dipper

The American dipper (Cinclus mexicanus), also known as a water ouzel, is a stocky dark grey bird with a head sometimes tinged with brown, and white feathers on the eyelids that cause the eyes to flash white as the bird blinks. It is 16.5 cm (6.5 in) long and weighs on average 46 g (1.6 oz). It has long legs, and bobs its whole body up and down during pauses as it feeds on the bottom of fast-moving, rocky streams. It inhabits the mountainous regions of Central America and western North America from Panama to Alaska.

Big Dipper

The Big Dipper (US, Canada) or the Plough (UK, Ireland) is a large asterism consisting of seven bright stars of the constellation Ursa Major; six of them are of second magnitude and one, Megrez (δ), of third magnitude. Four define a "bowl" or "body" and three define a "handle" or "head". It is recognized as a distinct grouping in many cultures.

The North Star (Polaris), the current northern pole star and the tip of the handle of the Little Dipper (Little Bear), can be located by extending an imaginary line through the front two stars of the asterism, Merak (β) and Dubhe (α). This makes it useful in celestial navigation.

Chicken nugget

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Dipper (Chinese constellation)

The Dipper mansion (斗宿, pinyin: Dǒu Xiù) is one of the Twenty-eight mansions of the Chinese constellations. It is one of the northern mansions of the Black Tortoise.

Dipper Pines

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Disney's Blizzard Beach

Disney's Blizzard Beach is a water theme park located at the Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake near Orlando, Florida. All water areas are heated (at approximately 80 °F or 27 °C), with the exception of the melting snow in the ice cave of Cross Country Creek.

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Giant Dipper

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Gravity Falls

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In 2015, Hirsch announced that the series would finish with its second season, stating that he chose to do it for the show to end with "a real conclusion for the characters". He later stated that he remains open to continuing the series with additional episodes or specials. The show culminated with a one-hour finale, "Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back the Falls", airing on February 15, 2016.In February 2018, on the second anniversary of the final episode of the show, Hirsch used a cipher to announce Gravity Falls: Lost Legends, a continuation of the Gravity Falls story in a new graphic novel that was later released on July 24, 2018.

Ladle (spoon)

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Lockheed Little Dipper

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Radical 68

Radical 68 meaning "dipper" is 1 of 34 Kangxi radicals (214 radicals total) composed of 4 strokes. 市斗, sometimes represented by 斗 alone, is also the symbol for a Chinese traditional measurement of dry volume equaling about 10 liters, which is ~18.16 pints, ~2.27 gallons, ~610.2 cubic inches, or ~0.3531 cubic feet.

In the Kangxi Dictionary there are 32 characters (out of 49,030) to be found under this radical.

USS Dipper

USS Dipper (AM-357) was an Admirable-class minesweeper built for the United States Navy during World War II. The ship was ordered and laid down as PCE-905-class patrol craft USS PCE-917 but was renamed and reclassified before her July 1944 launch as Dipper (AM-357). Dipper was launched 26 July 1944 by Willamette Iron and Steel Works, Portland, Oregon ; sponsored by Miss A. L. Gaffney; and commissioned 26 December 1945, Lieutenant (junior grade) H. S. Pomeroy, USNR, in command. Dipper sailed from Portland 11 January 1946 to join the U.S. 19th Fleet (Reserve) at San Diego, California, four days later. She provided various services for this group until placed out of commission in reserve 15 January 1947. She was reclassified MSF-357, 7 February 1955. Dipper was sold for scrap on 5 January 1961.

Ursa Major

Ursa Major (; also known as the Great Bear) is a constellation in the northern sky, whose associated mythology likely dates back into prehistory. Its Latin name means "greater (or larger) she-bear," referring to and contrasting it with nearby Ursa Minor, the lesser bear. In antiquity, it was one of the original 48 constellations listed by Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD. Today it is the third largest of the 88 modern constellations.

Ursa Major is primarily known from the asterism of its main seven stars, which has been called the "Big Dipper," "the Wagon," "Charles's Wain," or "the Plough," among other names. In particular, the Big Dipper's stellar configuration mimics the shape of the "Little Dipper." Its two brightest stars, named Dubhe and Merak (α Ursae Majoris and β Ursae Majoris), can be used as the navigational pointer towards the place of the current northern pole star, Polaris in Ursa Minor.

Ursa Major, along with asterisms that incorporate or comprise it, is significant to numerous world cultures, often as a symbol of the north. Its depiction on the flag of Alaska is a modern example of such symbolism.

Ursa Major is visible throughout the year from most of the northern hemisphere, and appears circumpolar above the mid-northern latitudes. From southern temperate latitudes, the main asterism is invisible, but the southern parts of the constellation can still be viewed.

Ursa Minor

Ursa Minor (Latin: "Lesser Bear", contrasting with Ursa Major), also known as the Little Bear, is a constellation in the Northern Sky. Like the Great Bear, the tail of the Little Bear may also be seen as the handle of a ladle, hence the North American name, Little Dipper: seven stars with four in its bowl like its partner the Big Dipper. It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd-century astronomer Ptolemy, and remains one of the 88 modern constellations. Ursa Minor has traditionally been important for navigation, particularly by mariners, because of Polaris being the North Star.

Polaris, the brightest star in the constellation, is a yellow-white supergiant and the brightest Cepheid variable star in the night sky, ranging from an apparent magnitude of 1.97 to 2.00. Beta Ursae Minoris, also known as Kochab, is an aging star that has swollen and cooled to become an orange giant with an apparent magnitude of 2.08, only slightly fainter than Polaris. Kochab and magnitude 3 Gamma Ursae Minoris have been called the "guardians of the pole star". Planets have been detected orbiting four of the stars, including Kochab. The constellation also contains an isolated neutron star—Calvera—and H1504+65, the hottest white dwarf yet discovered, with a surface temperature of 200,000 K.

White-throated dipper

The white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus), also known as the European dipper or just dipper, is an aquatic passerine bird found in Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. The species is divided into several subspecies, based primarily on colour differences, particularly of the pectoral band. The white-throated dipper is Norway's national bird.


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