Pretty Pipit

Outlined against the blue water with a midday sun, I almost didn’t recognize the familiar American Pipit. Framed by grass and lit by early light the last time I saw it, it showed its characteristic rusty brown shadings better. It usually looks like a sparrow at first sight, but the long, pointy bill gives it away as a flycatcher type. The orange streak at the base of the bill suggests it’s a young bird or, at least, a bird that’s not breeding. In winter, Pipits are found all over the United States and Mexico.

Pipits belong to the Motacillidae family, which also includes wagtails and longclaws, two species not usually found in the U.S. Like wagtails, the American Pipit frequently dips its tail, as it does in the video. Like longclaws, our bird has a very long rear toe and nail (“hallux”) that helps it navigate in the snowy, muddy terrain where it breeds.

American Pipit (Anthus rubescens). Note long rear toe.

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