Tawny pipit (Anthus campestris)

French: Pipit rousseline
GenusAnthus (1)
SizeLength: 16.5 – 17 cm (2)
Average male weight: 29.5 g (2)
Average female weight: 28 g (2)
Weight17 – 32 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

This small bird has creamy-coloured underparts with no markings, a feature which helps distinguish this species from other pipits, such as Richard’s pipit (3). The upperparts are generally brown in colour, with a row of blackish squares on the sides, and the wing feathers are sandy brown with greyish tips. Both male and female tawny pipits have the same plumage which, between late July and September, moults to reveal creamier coloured feathers (4). A distinctive dark stripe runs across the tawny pipit’s brown-black eyes, the slender bill is dark brown, and the legs are cream (2). The juvenile is a little more extravagant in appearance, having many more dark streaks along the upperparts, especially across the upper breast.  Its wings are also of a darker brown than the adult and have whitish tips (2). The calls of the tawny pipit include a shrill chilp or chiip and a loud tseeep on takeoff.  Around the nest it can be heard making a high-pitched tiji-tiji-tiji (2).

The tawny pipit’s breeding range extends from Europe eastwards into central Asia. It migrates for the winter to Africa, southern Asia and India (5).

The tawny pipit lives in a wide range of open and dry areas, including sand dunes, sandy heathland, dry grassland and clear-felled areas, although it can also live in artificial habitats such as gravel pits (2). Often areas with low-growing shrubs and trees are chosen to provide perches from which the tawny pipit can sing (2). It lives at altitudes of up to about 450 metres in Europe, but occupies much higher habitats in north-west Africa and eastern Kazakhstan (2).

The tawny pipit feeds primarily on insects and other invertebrates, as well as some seeds. Its prey includes grasshoppers, dragonflies, butterflies, spiders, ants, flies, beetles, snails and termites (2). Remarkably, a tawny pipit has also been recorded eating asand lizard (Lacerta agilis). The tawny pipit typically forages on the ground, running and then pecking at prey, and only occasionally flying after it (2).

The tawny pipit breeds between mid-April and mid-August, with the exact times of year varying depending on the location (2). It performs a quaint mating display, which consists of flying up to 30 metres while singing. The nest of the tawny pipit is made of leaves and roots and lined with hair and fine plant material. The female builds the nest in a hollow on the ground or in a tuft of grass, and lays a clutch of three to six eggs. The young are fed by both parents for the first two weeks, and are cared for over the next five weeks (2).

Whilst this species is not globally threatened (1), and is fairly common in many areas, populations in western and central Europe are showing declines. This is due to habitat loss as open areas are re-forested, and intensive agriculture results in scrubland being taken over by farms (2).

There are no known conservation projects taking place to protect the tawny pipit at this time.

To learn about bird conservation around the world see:

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:

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2004) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdGuides (November, 2009)
  4. Simms, E. (1992) British Larks, Pipits and Wagtails. Harper Collins, London.
  5. Olendorf, D. (2002) Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopaedia. Gale Group, Michigan.