ROCK PIPIT (Anthus petrosus)

FAMILY: MOTACILLIDAE (Wagtails, longclaws and pitpits)

Rocks pipits are, unsurprisingly, residents of rocky coastlines all around the UK, but will sometimes be seen inland, but nearly always on rocky structures or lake shores. While our resident populations don’t like to move far, winter populations are boosted by the arrival of migrants from Northern Europe. Not much is known about their population as it is too common to be surveyed by the Rare Breeding Birds panel but not widespread enough to be monitored by the Breeding Birds survey.

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Alert Status:


Estimated number of breeding pairs: 36,000

Listen to rock pipit song:


This streaky brown bird is slightly smaller than a starling, with grey-brown upperparts and slightly darker brown wings and tails. Their heads are brown with some white streaking visible and pale breasts and bellies with the brown streaks continuing. They look similar to the meadow pipit but they have almost black legs compared to the meadow pipits' pale-coloured legs.

Average Length: 16.5 cm

Average Lifespan: 9 Years

Average Wingspan: 23-28 cm

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Rock Pipit diet

Rock pipits feed on a range of invertebrates that they can find amongst the rocks such as beetles and small molluscs, as well as some small fish and seeds.

Rock Pipit breeding and nesting information

The breeding season begins in mid-March, when the female builds a cup-shaped nest out of dried grass, twigs and seaweed in rock crevices or cavities on grassy banks. 4 to 5 eggs are laid in the nest and incubated by the female for 14-15 days while the male guards the nest. The chicks are then looked after by both parents until they fledge 15-16 days later. They will sometimes produce 2 broods before the breeding season ends in August.

Threats to rock pipits

Rock pipits don’t face many threats in the UK and the populations seem to be doing well here, however, the data on this is limited. Our coastlines have remained relatively unchanged over time, unlike some other habitats, which has allowed the population to stabilise. Future problems could come from the pollution of our shorelines with plastic and discarded fishing gear, extreme weather and storms during the breeding season that damage active nests and direct disturbance from humans. Invasive species such as the American Mink are also thought to negatively impact the breeding success of this species. To fully understand the population of rock pipits it is important that the population counts are updated from the 1988-1991 figures.

How you can help

Clean up your local shorelines when walking or through organised beach cleans.

Keep dogs on leads and be careful not to disturb active nests during the breeding season.  

Creating an insect-friendly garden if you live near the coast will ensure that there is ample food for these birds.

Fascinating Fact

Male rock pipits will enter neighbouring male territories and help chase off intruders, which is a very rare behaviour.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Anthus petrosus. Downloaded from Accessed: 22/09/2023.

British Trust for Ornithology (no date) Rock Pipit | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Available at: Accessed: 22/09/2023.

Elfström, T. S. (2020). Vocal and visual communication in territorial rock pipit males (Anthus petrosus), focused on playback experiments. A study of the information content of displays. Bioacoustics, 29(5), 533–556.

Nordstrom, M. N., Ho¨gmander, J. H., Laine, J., Nummelin, J., Laanetu, N., & Korpima¨ki, E. K. (2003). Effects of feral mink removal on seabirds, waders and passerines on small islands in the Baltic Sea. Biological Conservation. 109(3):359-368.  

RSPB (2023) Rock pipit bird facts: Anthus petrosus, The RSPB. Available at: Accessed: 22/09/2023.

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

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