Meadow pipits are non-descript birds and their plumage allows them to blend in with the surrounding vegetation. They have brown upperparts with black streaks on their head and back. Their underparts are white with the brown streaking continuing to the underwing. The meadow pipit has pale pinkish legs with a large hind claw, which can set them apart from the rock pipits’ black legs. It has a slightly smaller, less sturdy bill than the tree pipit, but these species can be hard to tell apart. Their parachuting flight during the spring is an easy way to identify these birds.
Average Length: 14.5 cm
Average Lifespan: 3 Years
Average Wingspan: 22-25 cm
The meadow pipit diet is nearly exclusively invertebrates such as flies, beetles, and moths, but they sometimes supplement their diet with seeds.
Meadows pipits begin their breeding season in late March/early April when they build a neat, cup-shaped nest out of grass, concealed amongst ground-level vegetation. Their clutch size can range from two to seven eggs and has been found to increase at higher altitudes. The eggs are incubated by the female for up to two weeks before hatching. Both parents then feed the newly hatched chicks for a further two weeks before they fledge. The adults will produce two broods before the breeding season ends in August.
Meadow pipits face several threats in the UK, mainly the intensification of agriculture, which includes an increase in pesticide use and the removal of insect populations on which this bird feeds. The intensity of sheep grazing on open grassland also has a clear effect on their population. Conservation efforts that involve the expansion of woodland have also driven declines in meadow pipit populations through the loss of open grassland. This highlights the importance of taking a wide view when planning conservation. Climate change is also likely to drive the decline of this partial migrant due to droughts and a lack of food at their wintering grounds as well as increasing wildfires in UK upland areas. It is projected that by 2050 the suitability of our climate for these birds will decline by 49%.
Petitioning local areas to protect open grassland areas.
Be very careful not to disturb these birds if hiking during the breeding season.
Do not start fires or use open flames during the drier months when enjoying the outdoors!
Meadow pipits are one of the most common ‘foster parents’ of the brood parasite, the cuckoo. The cuckoo lays a single egg in its nest and when this egg hatches it pushes the meadow pipit eggs out of the nest, giving it the parents' full attention.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Anthus pratensis. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/meadow-pipit-anthus-pratensis. Accessed: 13/09/2023.
British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Meadow pipit | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Available at: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/meadow-pipit. Accessed: 13/09/2023.
Denerley, C., Redpath, S. M., van der Wal, R., Newson, S. E., Chapman, J. W., & Wilson, J. D. (2019). Breeding ground correlates of the distribution and decline of the Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus at two spatial scales. Ibis, 161(2), 346–358. https://doi.org/10.1111/IBI.12612
Massimino Colin Beale Andrew J Suggitt Humphrey Q P Crick Nicholas A Macgregor Matthew J Carroll Ilya M D Maclean James W Pearce-Higgins, D. M., Massimino, D., W Pearce-Higgins, Á. J., Beale Á A J Suggitt, C. M., Suggitt Á I M D Maclean, A. J., Suggitt, A. J., Macgregor, N. A., & Carroll, M. J. (2020). Can microclimate offer refuge to an upland bird species under climate change? Landscape Ecology, 35: 1907-1922. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-020-01069-7
Massimino, D., Johnston, A., Gillings, S. et al. Projected reductions in climatic suitability for vulnerable British birds. Climatic Change 145, 117–130 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-017-2081-2
RSPB (2023) Meadow pipit bird facts: Anthus pratensis, The RSPB. Available at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/meadow-pipit/ (Accessed: 13 September 2023).
Vandenberghe, C., Prior, G., Littlewood, N. A., Brooker, R., & Pakeman, R. (2009). Influence of livestock grazing on meadow pipit foraging behaviour in upland grassland. Basic and Applied Ecology, 10(7), 662–670. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.baae.2009.03.009