DIPPER (Cinclus cinclus)


Often described as ‘dumpy looking’, the dipper is an interesting little bird which characteristically ‘dips’ up and down when perched. They are best known for their amazing ability to walk into water and become completely submerged when looking for invertebrates to feed on. They can be found near fast-flowing rivers and streams, especially in upland areas, though there are areas in the South-West where they are also present.

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Alert Status:

Amber - 39% decrease ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 6,900-20,500 (updated 2016)

Listen to dipper song:


The dipper is a short-tailed and compact bird which is built for the waterways. Their tail is often cocked, and their upper body is a very dark brown, almost black looking in some lights.  The dipper has a rusty brown head and underbelly, with a large stark white bib in contrast. A couple of subspecies can be found in the UK, often differing in the shade of their underbelly breast band. The juveniles look very different from the adults, and you would be forgiven for thinking they are a different species. They are a pale grey-brown, mottled all over, with only a slight hint of paler colour on the bib area.

Average Length: 17-20 cm

Average Lifespan: 3 Years

Average Wingspan: 25-30cm

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Dipper diet

Dippers forage in freshwater streams and rivers, feeding on an array of small invertebrate prey.

Dipper breeding and nesting information

If weather is fair, dippers may start constructing nests as early as January/February with both the male and female helping to build the nest. Nests are constructed alongside a river or stream, on an overhang, using moss, grass, leaves, and roots. Dippers breed during early spring, with many clutches laid between March-May. 1-2 broods are normally laid annually, though occasionally 3 if it is a very good year. Each clutch contains 4-5 eggs, which are incubated by the female for 2 and a half weeks, with chicks fed for a further3 weeks before fledging.

Threats to dippers

Research has shown that dippers are particularly sensitive to the pH levels in water environments, and more acidic streams can cause issues in reproduction and survival. These vast changes in acidity are often related to high levels of pollution in these stream environments. Other studies have found that dippers are also sensitive to fluctuations water levels and in temperature, as in harsh and cold winters the waterways may freeze, limiting their ability to forage.

How you can help

Help your local river trust to clean your local river, to keep them in tip top shape for the wildlife

Petition your local area to put up suitable dipper nest boxes if there are a lack of nesting cavities in your area

Report any instances of river pollution to either the canal and river trust, or the environment agency

Fascinating Fact

Did you know that dippers are the only songbird that uses its wings to propel itself to swim underwater? They are well equipped for underwater diving due to improved water resistance in the feather structure, differences in skeletal structure, thicker skin and thicker layers of down feathers.
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BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Cinclus cinclus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 19/06/2022.

Nilsson, A.L.K., Knudsen, E., Jerstad, K., Røstad, O.W., Walseng, B., Slagsvold, T. & Stenseth, N.C. (2011) Climate effects on population fluctuations of the white-throated dipper Cinclus cinclus. Journal of Animal Ecology. 80: 235–243.

Rijke, A.M., Jesser, W.A. (2010) The Feather Structure of Dippers: Water Repellency and Resistance to Water Penetration. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology. 122(3): 563-568.

Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: profiles of birds occurring in Britain & Ireland. BTO, Thetford (http://www.bto.org/birdfacts, accessed on 28 March 2022)

Smith, N. A., Koeller, K. L., Clarke, J. A., Ksepka, D. T., Mitchell, J. S., Nabavizadeh, A., Ridgley, R. C., Witmer, L. M. (2022). Convergent evolution in dippers (Aves, Cinclidae): The only wing-propelled diving songbirds. The Anatomical Record. 305( 7): 1563– 1591.

Stanbury, A.J., Eaton, M.A., Aebischer, N.J., Balmer, D., Brown, A.F., Douse, A., Lindley, P., McCulloch, N., Noble, D.G., Win, I. (2021) The status of our bird populations: the fifth Birds of Conservation Concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britain. British Birds. 114

Taylor, A.J., O’Halloran, J. (2001) Diet of Dippers Cinclus cinclus during an early winter spate and the possible implications for Dipper populations subjected to climate change. Bird Study. 48: 173-179.

Tyler, S.J., Ormerod, S.J. (1992) A review of the likely causal pathways relating the reduced density of breeding dippers Cinclus cinclus to the acidification of upland streams. Environmental Pollution. 78 (1-3): 49-55.

Tyler, S.J., Ormerod, S.J. (1994) The Dippers. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd., University Press, Cambridge

Woodward, I., Aebischer, N., Burnell,D., Eaton, M., Frost, T., Hall, C., Stroud, D. & Noble, D. (2020) Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. British Birds. 113: 69–104.

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