By Russ Chappell
If American Dippers are to be trusted — and, hey, they’re quite discerning — then Fain Park has a pond with quality water. Indeed, they’re quite picky and avoid even mildly polluted waters.
A casual, transient, winter visitor, Dippers normally prefer fast-running, clear streams, where they feed on aquatic insect larvae like caddisflies, mayflies, beetles, bugs, and mosquitoes, as well as adult insects, worms, snails, fish eggs and small fish. They are, by and large, rarely seen on ponds or lakes.
Also known as a water ouzel, American Dippers are stout and dusky grey with some brown on their heads, bright white eyelids and thick bills. They’re 5.5 to 8 inches in length, weigh 1.5 to 2.4 ounces, and have an extra eyelid called a “nictitating membrane” which helps them see underwater. They also have scales that block their nostrils when submerged.
Permanent residents throughout their territories, which range from Alaska to Panama, some Dippers stay through winter when streams remain unfrozen. Others relocate to lower elevations and southward for the winter. They can tolerate cold water because of their low metabolic rate, their blood’s extra oxygen-carrying capacity, a thick layer of feathers, and the generous quantity of secreted oil, which keeps them warm while feeding underwater. When not foraging, you can catch them bobbing up and down on a rock or the shore.
North America’s sole aquatic songbird, their loud song consists of high whistles or trills, “peee peee pijur pijur.” Both genders sing year-round. They defend the territory along streams they frequent, and while feeding underwater occasionally are victims of large prey like Bull or Dolly Varden trout. Although a songbird, they experience a total molting, similar to ducks, and are rendered flightless by late summer.
Globe-shaped nests with a side entrance are constructed on ledges or banks near the water, or behind waterfalls or under man-made structures. Normally two to four white eggs are incubated by the female and hatch in 15–17 days. The young grow into fledglings 20-25 days later.
This unique bird may still be hanging out at Fain Park and perhaps you can add it to your 2018 Big Year.
Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.
Russ Chappell is webmaster and a member of the Prescott Audubon Society, the local National Audubon Society Chapter, and he encourages anyone with an interest in birds to check out this friendly, thriving non-profit organization.