An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the American Pipit
Jan 24, 2018 08:50PM
By Paul Spear
This weekly column provides photos of birds photographed locally in the Tijuana Estuary or on IB's beaches along with background on the bird.
This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the buff-bellied pipit c, or American pipit, a small
songbird found on both sides of the northern Pacific. Nesting in the far north and on mountaintops, American pipits can be found throughout the continent during migration or in winter. At those seasons they are usually in flocks, walking on shores or plowed fields, wagging their tails as they go. Often they are detected first as they fly over high, giving sharp pi-pit calls.
Some analyses of Christmas Bird Counts have suggested that they are experiencing declining numbers; however, this species is still widespread and common.
American pipits are found in tundra, alpine slopes; and in migration and winter, on plains, bare fields, and shores. They breed on tundra, both in far north and in high mountains above the treeline, in areas with very low growth such as sedges, grass, and dwarf willows. In migration and winter they are found on flat open ground such as plowed fields, short-grass prairie, mudflats, shores, and river sandbars.
They forage by walking on the ground, taking insects from the ground or from low plants. Sometimes they forage while walking in very shallow water. Except during their breeding season, they usually forage in flocks.
American pipit diet is mostly insects, but also some seeds. Insects make up the great majority of their summer diet; included are many flies, true bugs, beetles, caterpillars, moths, and others. They also eat some spiders, millipedes, and ticks. Migrants along the coast may eat tiny crustaceans and marine worms. Inland in fall and winter, they may eat the seeds of grasses and weeds, which may make up close to half of diet.
After mating, females lay 4-6, sometimes 3-7, whitish to pale buff, heavily spotted with brown and gray eggs. Incubation is by females only in about 13-16 days. Males feed females during the incubation period. Both parents feed their nestlings. Females brood their young much of the time during the first few days; males may bring food for her and for their young. Young usually leave their nests at about 14 days, and are fed by their parents for about another 2 weeks.
Males perform song-flight displays to defend their nesting territory and attract a mate. In display, males begin singing on the ground, fly up (often to 100' or more), then glide or parachute down again with wings fully opened, singing all the way. Nest sites are on the ground in a sheltered spot, usually protected under overhanging grass, small rock ledges, or in a piece of sod. Nests, built by females only are a cup of grass, sedges, and weeds, lined with finer grass, and sometimes with animal hair or feathers.
This seasonal visitor is uncommonly seen in our beautiful Tijuana Estuary. I was lucky to spot this guy perched on the helicopter field fence. Enjoy walking or biking the great paths there. Until next week, happy birding!
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Paul Spear, Publisher, and Editor of Dig Imperial Beach