Dipper (Cinclus cinclus)

Also known as: white throated dipper
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyCinclidae
GenusCinclus (1)
SizeWingspan: 25.5-30 cm (2)
Length: 17-20 cm (3)
Weight50-76 g (2)

The dipper is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Listed as a Species of Conservation Concern by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, but not a priority species. Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Green List (low conservation concern) (4).

The dipper (Cinclus cinclus) is a dumpy aquatic bird with a short tail (2). Adults have dark sooty-black plumage with a prominent bright white bib, and the plumage below the bib and on the head is reddish-brown (3). Juveniles are greyish in colour (5). The common name ‘dipper’ refers to this bird’s habit of ‘curtseying’ when perched (3). The call is a penetrating ‘zits’ and the song is a slow, soft warbling (5) (3).

The race that occurs in Britain, gularis, is found throughout most of Wales and northern Britain, but has a patchy distribution in south-west England (6). The Irish race, hibernicus is widespread in Ireland with the exception of central areas (6). Elsewhere, the dipper is found in much of Europe, extending east to Russia and the Urals and south to North Africa (7).

Breeds along fast-flowing streams and rivers, typically in upland areas where there are plenty of exposed stones on which they can perch (2) (3). The dipper typically nests in crevices beneath bridges and in walls (5). In winter, dippers tend to stay in their breeding areas, but in very harsh conditions they may move to estuaries and coastal areas (6).

The dipper has evolved amazing methods of hunting: it swims underwater using its wings, can walk along the bottom with the wings held out to prevent it bobbing to the surface, and can swim on the surface, making dives into the water (5) (3). They feed on a wide range of aquatic invertebrates and fish (6). Dippers hunt by sight, and have a third white eye-lid known as a nictitating membrane, which protects the eye when they are submerged (5).

Dippers breed early in the year, and will often have laid eggs before the end of February (6). The domed nest is constructed from straw and moss, and is typically built in a crevice below a bridge, behind a waterfall or in a stone wall (3). Four or five eggs are laid and incubated for around 16 days. The young will have fledged after 20 to 24 days, and the maximum lifespan of this bird is around 8 years (2).

The dipper is not threatened at present.

Conservation action has not been targeted at the dipper.

For more information on the dipper and other bird species:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
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  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. RSPB A-Z of Birds: Dipper (February 2004):
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/birds/guide/d/dipper/index.asp
  3. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterström, D. & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  4. British Trust for Ornithology/ JNCC- breeding birds in the wider countryside: dipper (February 2004):
    http://www.bto.org/birdtrends2001/wcrdippe.htm
  5. Holden, P. & Sharrock, J.T.R. (2002) The RSPB Guide to British Birds. Pan Macmillan, London.
  6. Lack. P. (1986) The Atlas of wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. T & A D Poyser Ltd, London.
  7. Eurobirding- common dipper (February 2004):
    http://www.eurobirding.co.uk/common_dipper.htm