Throughout the summer months the red-throated pipit displays a wonderful rusty red throat and face, a feature which distinguishes this bird from its close relatives and makes it easy to spot and admire. However, the magnificent flush of colour is all but lost during the winter season and the red-throated pipit takes on a more drab appearance, when individuals can be identified by the bold, blackish streaks on the breast and flanks (4). The sexes are generally similar in appearance, although the male tends to flush a deeper red and retains a tinge of pink throughout the winter, whereas the female does not. The red-throated pipit has a distinctive flight song, which is used during the courtship ritual, as well as a variety of other calls. The main call starts with a short sounding tew and is followed by a long, high pitched, piercing note, which would be pronounced as a tseeaz(2).
The red-throated pipit is a migratory species and each year this remarkable little bird flies from its breeding grounds in Europe to wintering grounds in sub-Saharan Africa and back again. This species is primarily insectivorous, and caterpillars in particular make up a large portion of its diet. It also feeds on invertebrates such as beetles, spiders and snails and supplements these juicy prey items with grass seeds (2). When foraging for such food items, the red-throated pipit offers a quaint sight as it walks quickly along the ground in a horizontal pose, wagging its tail as it goes. Although this tiny bird is most commonly seen on the ground, during the mating season it reveals its excellent flying ability. The male performs a magnificent flight display in which it climbs to a staggering 20 metres, before parachuting down to the ground with the wings uplifted and singing loudly, falling silent only when it reaches the ground (2).
The red-throated pipit is a monogamous species; each male will mate with only one female in a breeding season and the pair will work together to raise their offspring. The male makes a burrow in the ground and the female proceeds to build the cup-shaped nest within it. Both partners are active in gathering nest material which includes grass, feathers, hair and moss. The female then lays a clutch of around five to seven eggs, which are usually speckled brown, and incubates them for up to two weeks. Once the chicks hatch, both parents forage for food for the nestlings. During the non-breeding season, red-throated pipits form loose flocks (2)(4).
The red-throated pipit’s breeding range lies within the Arctic Circle, across northern Europe and Asia. It spends winter in Africa, India and south-east Asia (1)(5). It may also occasionally be seen in Australia (1).
There are currently no threats to the global population of the red-throated pipit. The habitat in which this species lives is not under serious threat, nor is its prey in rapid decline. A survey carried out in 2004 estimated the European population of this species to comprise between 3,000,000 and 9,000,000 individuals (1).
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