American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)

The American Pipit is a walker. Unlike the common sparrows, which usually hop with both feet at the same time, the Pipit alternates feet just like we featherless bipeds do. And it’s a virtuoso with its shanks. It can change direction instantly, and it’s got blazing acceleration. It might give a Roadrunner a contest. It does all this despite having what would seem at first like a handicap: a super long hind toe (hallux). That toe, say the experts, may help the bird navigate on snow, but it’s not much use here. Regardless, this bird can travel.

American Pipits are here as seasonal migrants. They have unusual breeding preferences. Some of them do the standard thing, nesting on the far northern tundra near rivers or sea shores. Others of the identical species prefer alpine habitats, such as in the Sierra Nevada and several other mountain chains, where they bed down above the tree line. In both types of habitats, they make their nests on the ground. They also mostly feed on the ground, as the bird in the video is doing.

Between video takes I had to ask a dog owner to put their dog on leash; it was snuffing around within a few yards of the bird, on the border of the perimeter path, in the shadow of a sign indicating this was an on-leash area. Years ago when I first came to the park with a dog, I never even saw that birds existed here, and I’m guessing that some other dog owners have the same limiting filters on their eyes.

“American” Pipit is a bit of a misnomer. This bird breeds in northern latitudes around the globe, and spends winters not only here but in Central America, Japan, Korea, China, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Middle East. The bird used to be called the Water Pipit, and is currently known as the Buff-bellied Pipit outside the USA. Their thin, pointed beaks are adapted for insect hunting, and that’s their main course whenever available, but they’ll take a side dish of seeds in the fall and winter. Occasionally they’re said to wade in shallow water like shorebirds looking for marine invertebrates, but I haven’t seen that here (yet).

American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)

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