WATER PIPIT (Anthus spinoletta)

FAMILY: MOTICILLIDAE (Longclaws, Wagtails and Pipits)

This winter visitor is scarce in Wales, Scotland, and the island of Ireland, instead favouring marshes around the coast of England. Water pipits begin arriving in September and October and leave for their breeding grounds in April, at which time they have started to adopt their breeding plumage.

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Alert Status:


Estimated number of winter visitors: 205

Listen to Water Pipit song:


Water pipits are stocky pipits that look similar to many of our other pipit species. When in the UK they have pale greyish brown backs and wings with pale buff underparts, with some streaking on their breast. Their heads are the same greyish brown as their backs and a pale buff eyebrow stripe (or supercilium) which are sharply contrasted by their black beak and eyes. During the breeding season, these markings become more defined.

Average Length: 17 cm

Maximum Known Lifespan: 4 years, 9 months.

Average Wingspan: 22.5 - 28 cm

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Water Pipit diet

Their diet mainly consists of invertebrates and larvae but late in the summer, they will supplement their diet with berries and seeds, and even algae, which can make up a large part of their diet when invertebrate numbers drop.

Water Pipit Breeding and nesting information

Water pipits return to their alpine breeding grounds in mountainous regions such as the Alps in April and start breeding at the end of April. The nest is a cup of grass stems and leaves and is situated on the ground on a bank in dense vegetation. 4-6 eggs are laid and incubated for 14 to 15 days by the female. Once hatched the chicks are fed for 14-15 days before they leave the nest, after which they will still rely on their parents for 14 to 15 days.

Threats to Water Pipits

In some areas, over-grazing has had significant impacts on the nesting success of this species, through direct damage and exposure to predators through grazing of the dense vegetation cover. Management of their preferred ecosystems in both their breeding and non-breeding grounds is also thought to have a significant effect on their population. Furthermore, climate change is changing their alpine breeding grounds which is having important impacts on their nesting success. Human disturbance in their breeding grounds has increased as these areas become more accessible and the spread of ski slopes in the Alps has decreased potential nesting sites and increased direct disturbance of active nests.  

How you can help

Visit and support reserves that conserve habitats used by this species.

Petition to protect coastal and freshwater marshes.

Fascinating Fact

Water pipits are strange in that some of the population migrate North to colder regions for the winter.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Anthus spinoletta. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/species/factsheet/water-pipit-anthus-spinoletta. Accessed: 07/11/2023.

Bollmann, K., & Reyer, H.-U. (2001). Reproductive success of water pipits in an alpine environment. The Condor, 103(3), 510-520. https://academic.oup.com/condor/article/103/3/510/5563119  

Brambilla, M., Gustin, M., Cento, M., Ilahiane, L., & Celada, C. (2020). Habitat, climate, topography and management differently affect occurrence in declining avian species: Implications for conservation in changing environments. Science of the Total Environment, 742, 140663. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140663

British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Water Pipit | BTO - British Trust for Ornithology. Available at: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/birdfacts/water-pipit. Accessed: 07/11/2023.  

Caprio, E., Chamberlain, D., & Rolando, A. (2014). Skiing, birds and biodiversity in the Alps. Conference paper: Ecology and conservation of birds in upland and alpine habitats At: Leichester. http://www.bou.org.uk/bouproc-net/uplands/caprio-et-al.pdf  

Ceresa, F., Brambilla, M., Kvist, L., Vitulano, S., Pes, M., Tomasi, L., Pedrini, P., Hilpold, A., & Kranebitter, P. (2023). Landscape characteristics influence regional dispersal in a high-elevation specialist migratory bird, the water pipit Anthus spinoletta. Molecular Ecology, 32(8), 1875–1892. https://doi.org/10.1111/MEC.16853  

Pavel, V. (2004). The impact of grazing animals on nesting success of grassland passerines in farmland and natural habitats: a field experiment. Folia Zoologica, 53(2), 171-178.

Rauter, C., & Reyer, H.-U. (2000). Thermal and energetic consequences of nest location and breeding times in Water Pipits (Anthus spinoletta). Journal of Ornithology, 141, 391–407. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0361.2000.00039.pp.x

RSPB (2023) Water pipit, RSPB. Available at: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/water-pipit. Accessed: 07/11/2023.  

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. https://britishbirds.co.uk

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