White-throated dipper

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White-throated dipper
Cinclus cinclus -Kirkcudbright, Scotland-8.jpg
In Scotland
Song recorded in Devon
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Cinclidae
Genus: Cinclus
C. cinclus
Binomial name
Cinclus cinclus
Cinclus cinclus01 distr-2.png

     Resident     Winter [2]

Sturnus cinclusLinnaeus, 1758

The white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus), also known as the European dipper or just dipper, is an aquatic passerine bird found in Europe, Middle East, Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. The species is divided into several subspecies, based primarily on colour differences, particularly of the pectoral band. The white-throated dipper is Norway's national bird. [3]


Taxonomy and systematics

The white-throated dipper was described in 1758 by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae under the binomial name Sturnus cinclus. [4] The current genus Cinclus was introduced by the German naturalist Moritz Balthasar Borkhausen in 1797. [5] The name cinclus is from the Ancient Greek word kinklos that was used to describe small tail-wagging birds that resided near water. [6] Of the five species now placed in the genus, a molecular genetic study has shown that the white-throated dipper is most closely related to the other Eurasian species, the brown dipper (Cinclus pallasii). [7]

There are 14 subspecies of which one is now extinct (with ): [8]


The white-throated dipper is about 18 centimetres (7.1 in) long, rotund and short tailed. [9] The head of the adult (gularis and aquaticus) is brown, the back slate-grey mottled with black, looking black from a distance, and the wings and tail are brown. The throat and upper breast are white, followed by a band of warm chestnut which merges into black on the belly and flanks. The bill is almost black, the legs and irides brown. C. c. cinclus has a black belly band. The young are greyish brown and have no chestnut band.


The male has a sweet wren-like song. During courtship the male sings whilst he runs and postures, exhibiting his snowy breast, and when displaying he will take long and high flights, like those of the common kingfisher, accompanied by sharp metallic calls clink, clink, different from the normal zil.

Behaviour and ecology

At Brandon Creek, County Kerry, Ireland Cinclus cinclus -Brandon Creek, County Kerry, Ireland-8.jpg
At Brandon Creek, County Kerry, Ireland
From Jung town in Arunachal Pradesh in eastern Himalayas India. White-throated Dipper from Tawang river, near Jung, Arunachal Pradesh India 26032019.jpg
From Jung town in Arunachal Pradesh in eastern Himalayas India.

The white-throated dipper is closely associated with swiftly running rivers and streams or the lakes into which these fall. It often perches bobbing spasmodically with its short tail uplifted on the rocks round which the water swirls and tumbles.

It acquired its name from these sudden dips, not from its diving habit, though it dives as well as walks into the water.

It flies rapidly and straight, its short wings whirring swiftly and without pauses or glides, calling a shrill zil, zil, zil. It will then either drop on the water and dive or plunge in with a small splash.

From a perch it will walk into the water and deliberately submerge, but there is no truth in the assertion that it can defy the laws of specific gravity and walk along the bottom. Undoubtedly when entering the water it grips with its strong feet, but the method of progression beneath the surface is by swimming, using the wings effectively for flying under water. It holds itself down by muscular exertion, with its head well down and its body oblique, its course beneath the surface often revealed by a line of rising bubbles.

In this way it secures its food, usually aquatic invertebrates including caddis worms and other aquatic insect larvae, beetles, Limnaea , Ancylus and other freshwater molluscs, and also fish and small amphibians. A favourite food is the small crustacean Gammarus , an amphipod shrimp. It also walks and runs on the banks and rocks seeking terrestrial invertebrates.

The winter habits of the dipper vary considerably and apparently individually. When the swift hill streams are frozen it is forced to descend to the lowlands and even visit the coasts, but some will remain if there is any open water.


Eggs, Collection Museum Wiesbaden, Germany Cinclus cinclus MWNH 1850.JPG
Eggs, Collection Museum Wiesbaden, Germany
White-throated Dipper young one begging for food, at Sumdo, Ladakh, India White-throated Dipper young one begging for food.jpg
White-throated Dipper young one begging for food, at Sumdo, Ladakh, India

The white-throated dippers first breed when they are one year old. They are monogamous and defend a territory. The nest is almost invariably built either very near or above water. It is often placed on a rocky ledge or in a cavity. Man-made structures such as bridges are also used. The nest consists of a dome shaped structure made of moss, grass stems and leaves with a side entrance within which is an inner cup made of stems, rootlets and hair. Both sexes build the main larger structure but the female builds the inner cup. The eggs are laid daily. The clutch can contain from 1-8 eggs but usually 4–5. The eggs are smooth and glossy white and are 26 mm × 18.7 mm (1.02 in × 0.74 in) with a calculated weight of 4.6 g (0.16 oz). They are incubated by the female beginning after the last or sometimes the penultimate egg has been laid. [10] The male will bring food to the incubating female. [11] The eggs hatch after around 16 days and then both parents feed the altricial and nidicolous nestlings. [10] For the first 12-13 days they are brooded by the female. Both parents remove the faecal sacs for the first 9 days. [11] The chicks fledge at around 22 days of age but the parents continue to feed their young for another week but feeding can continue for 18 days. If the female has started a second clutch then only the male parent feeds the fledglings. [10] One or two broods are reared, usually in the same nest. When disturbed, the young that hardly feathered will at once drop into the water and dive.

The maximum recorded age of a white-throated dipper from ring-recovery data is 10 years and 7 months for a bird ringed in Finland. [12] Within the United Kingdom and Ireland the maximum age is 8 years and 9 months for a bird ringed and recovered in County Laois, Ireland. [13]

Dippers and humans

The first detailed description of the white-throated dipper, dating from c.1183, is that of Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), the twelfth-century cleric, historian and traveller, in his book Topographia Hibernica , an account of his travels through Ireland in 1183–86. [14] Gerald, a keen observer of wildlife, describes the dipper accurately, but with his notorious tendency to believe anything he was told, which so often detracts from the value of his work, [15] states that it was an aberrant variety of the common kingfisher. The true kingfisher, according to Gerald, did not occur in Ireland in the 1180s, although it was widespread there by the eighteenth century. [16]

Related Research Articles

American dipper Species of bird

The American dipper, also known as a water ouzel, is a stocky dark grey bird with a head sometimes tinged with brown, and white feathers on the eyelids that cause the eyes to flash white as the bird blinks. It is 16.5 cm (6.5 in) long, has a wingspan of 23 cm, and weighs on average 46 g (1.6 oz). It has long legs, and bobs its whole body up and down during pauses as it feeds on the bottom of fast-moving, rocky streams. It inhabits the mountainous regions of Central America and western North America from Panama to Alaska.

Dipper Genus of birds

Dippers are members of the genus Cinclus in the bird family Cinclidae, so-called because of their bobbing or dipping movements. They are unique among passerines for their ability to dive and swim underwater.

Brown dipper Species of bird

The brown dipper, also known as Pallas's dipper, Asian dipper or the Asiatic dipper, is an aquatic songbird found in the mountains of the east Palearctic. It is a thrush-like bird with a cocked tail. Its plumage is chocolate-brown with a slightly lighter coloured back and breast. At 22 cm (8.7 in) and 87 g (3.1 oz), it is the largest of the dippers. This species, which is not often seen, is found at medium to low elevations where mountain streams flow.

Black-throated loon A migratory aquatic bird found in the northern hemisphere

The black-throated loon, also known as the Arctic loon and the black-throated diver, is a migratory aquatic bird found in the northern hemisphere, primarily breeding in freshwater lakes in northern Europe and Asia. It winters along sheltered, ice-free coasts of the north-east Atlantic Ocean and the eastern and western Pacific Ocean. This loon was first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. It has two subspecies. It was previously considered to be the same species as the Pacific loon, of which it is traditionally considered to be a sister species, although this is debated. In a study that used mitochondrial and nuclear intron DNA, the black-throated loon was found to be sister to a clade consisting of the Pacific loon and two sister species, the common loon and the yellow-billed loon.

Belted kingfisher Species of bird

The belted kingfisher is a large, conspicuous water kingfisher. It is depicted on the 1986 series Canadian $5 note. All kingfishers were formerly placed in one family, Alcedinidae, but recent research suggests that this should be divided into three subfamilies.

Common kingfisher Species of bird

The common kingfisher, also known as the Eurasian kingfisher and river kingfisher, is a small kingfisher with seven subspecies recognized within its wide distribution across Eurasia and North Africa. It is resident in much of its range, but migrates from areas where rivers freeze in winter.

Northern wheatear Species of bird

The northern wheatear or wheatear is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher, Muscicapidae. It is the most widespread member of the wheatear genus Oenanthe in Europe and North and Central Asia.

Pied-billed grebe Species of bird

The pied-billed grebe is a species of the grebe family of water birds. Since the Atitlán grebe has become extinct, it is the sole extant member of the genus Podilymbus. The pied-billed grebe is primarily found in ponds throughout the Americas. Other names of this grebe include American dabchick, rail, dabchick, Carolina grebe, devil-diver, dive-dapper, dipper, hell-diver, pied-billed dabchick, pied-bill, thick-billed grebe, and water witch.

Pied kingfisher Species of bird

The pied kingfisher is a species of water kingfisher widely distributed across Africa and Asia. Originally described by Carl Linnaeus in 1758, it has five recognised subspecies. Its black and white plumage and crest, as well as its habit of hovering over clear lakes and rivers before diving for fish, make it distinctive. Males have a double band across the breast, while females have a single gorget that is often broken in the middle. They are usually found in pairs or small family groups. When perched, they often bob their head and flick up their tail.

Eurasian coot Species of bird

The Eurasian coot, also known as the common coot, or Australian coot, is a member of the rail and crake bird family, the Rallidae. It is found in Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and parts of North Africa. It has a slaty-black body, a glossy black head and a white bill with a white frontal shield. The sexes are similar.

Water rail Species of bird

The water rail is a bird of the rail family which breeds in well-vegetated wetlands across Europe, Asia and North Africa. Northern and eastern populations are migratory, but this species is a permanent resident in the warmer parts of its breeding range. The adult is 23–28 cm (9–11 in) long, and, like other rails, has a body that is flattened laterally, allowing it easier passage through the reed beds it inhabits. It has mainly brown upperparts and blue-grey underparts, black barring on the flanks, long toes, a short tail and a long reddish bill. Immature birds are generally similar in appearance to the adults, but the blue-grey in the plumage is replaced by buff. The downy chicks are black, as with all rails. The former subspecies R. indicus, has distinctive markings and a call that is very different from the pig-like squeal of the western races, and is now usually split as a separate species, the brown-cheeked rail.

Common quail Species of bird

The common quail, or European quail, is a small ground-nesting game bird in the pheasant family Phasianidae. It is mainly migratory, breeding in the western Palearctic and wintering in Africa and southern India.

Long-tailed tit Species of bird in Europe and Asia

The long-tailed tit or long-tailed bushtit is a common bird found throughout Europe and the Palearctic. The genus name Aegithalos was a term used by Aristotle for some European tits, including the long-tailed tit.

Corn bunting Species of bird

The corn bunting is a passerine bird in the bunting family Emberizidae, a group now separated by most modern authors from the finches, Fringillidae. This is a large bunting with heavily steaked buff-brown plumage. The sexes are similar but the male is slightly larger than the female. Its range extends from Western Europe and North Africa across to northwestern China.

Indian roller Species of bird

The Indian roller is a bird of the family Coraciidae, the rollers. It occurs widely from West Asia to the Indian Subcontinent. It is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List. The Indochinese roller was formerly included as a subspecies.

White-throated kingfisher Species of bird from Asia

The white-throated kingfisher also known as the white-breasted kingfisher is a tree kingfisher, widely distributed in Asia from the Sinai east through the Indian subcontinent to the Philippines. This kingfisher is a resident over much of its range, although some populations may make short distance movements. It can often be found well away from water where it feeds on a wide range of prey that includes small reptiles, amphibians, crabs, small rodents and even birds. During the breeding season they call loudly in the mornings from prominent perches including the tops of buildings in urban areas or on wires.

Purple honeycreeper Species of bird

The purple honeycreeper is a small Neotropical bird in the tanager family Thraupidae. It is found in the tropical New World from Colombia and Venezuela south to Brazil, and on Trinidad. A few, possibly introduced birds have been recorded on Tobago.

Black skimmer Species of bird

The black skimmer is a tern-like seabird, one of three very similar birds species in the skimmer genus Rynchops in the gull family Laridae. It breeds in North and South America. Northern populations winter in the warmer waters of the Caribbean and the tropical and subtropical Pacific coasts, but the South American races make only shorter movements in response to annual floods which extend their feeding areas in the river shallows.

Green-and-rufous kingfisher Species of bird

The green-and-rufous kingfisher is a resident breeding bird in the lowlands of the American tropics from southeastern Nicaragua south to southern Brazil.

In the 10th edition of Systema Naturae, published in 1758, the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus described 554 species of bird and gave each a binomial name.


  1. BirdLife International (2016). "Cinclus cinclus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species . 2016: e.T22708156A131946814. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  2. Brewer, David (2001). Wrens, Dippers and Thrashers. Pica Press. ISBN   978-1-873403-95-2.
  3. "Norges nasjonalfugl fossekallen" (in Norwegian). Norsk Rikskringkasting AS. Retrieved 19 January 2011.
  4. Linnaeus, C. (1758). Systema Naturæ per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis, Volume 1 (in Latin) (10th ed.). Holmiae:Laurentii Salvii. p. 168.
  5. Borkhausen (1797). Deutsche Fauna, oder, Kurzgefasste Naturgeschichte der Thiere Deutschlands. Erster Theil, Saugthiere und Vögel (in German). Frankfurt am Main: Varrentrapp und Wenner. p. 300.
  6. Jobling, James A. (2010). Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 107. ISBN   978-1-4081-2501-4.
  7. Voelker, Gary (2002). "Molecular phylogenetics and the historical biogeography of dippers (Cinclus)". Ibis. 144 (4): 577–584. doi:10.1046/j.1474-919X.2002.00084.x.
  8. Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2019). "Dippers, leafbirds, flowerpeckers, sunbirds". World Bird List Version 9.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  9. Cramp 1988, p. 510.
  10. 1 2 3 Cramp 1988, p. 521.
  11. 1 2 Cramp 1988, p. 519.
  12. "European Longevity Records". Euring. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  13. "Longevity records for Britain & Ireland in 2017". British Trust for Ornithology. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  14. Moriarty, Christopher Down the Dodder Wolfhound Press Dublin 1991 pp.114-5
  15. D'Arcy, Gordon Ireland's Lost Birds Four Courts Press Dublin 1999 p.19
  16. Moriarty p.115