Thursday, March 8, 2012

What an amazing, fearless little bird.

When we were on our hike yesterday to the game camera we saw a water dipper or American Dipper (Cinclus Mexicanus).  Water dippers live around fast flowing streams and search the water mostly for mayfly and caddisfly larvae.  They dive down into frigid whitewater and they are capable of staying submerged for up to 15 seconds. 

I tried to get a good photo of the little guy but it was too dark in the canyon.  Our snow shoes were very noisy so every time we got close he would fly farther down the creek.

 Retired Mountain Man called it a Water Ouzel, which is correct.  It is North America's only truly aquatic songbird.  I think I like the name Water Ouzel.  It sounds much more unique than Water Dipper.

How cold is the water?   Brrrr. 

So how do dippers withstand the cold temperatures?  They have a preen gland that is ten times larger than any other songbird.   They also have a very thick undercoating of down feathers to keep them warm.

They have a moveable flap over their nostrils which closes when they are under water.  Ouzels also have a third eye lid which acts like a windshield wiper when under water.  Pretty clever.  We could use one of those.

Icy Cougar Creek

Ice was everywhere

Other interesting facts I learned about water dippers:  They start breeding in March and often build their nests above a stream on a cliff or sometimes behind a waterfall.  They build dome shaped nests with a side entrance facing the water.  The entrance will have a canopy over it to protect it from spraying water.   I would love to find one.

Dippers reuse their nests.

Once the little birds have fledged the nest the dippers go through their molting.  They put on a new coat within 4 to 14 days!   They have to regrow their feathers quickly as they need every ounce of power their wings can produce to create the needed lift.    The loss of only a couple of feathers can impair their flight. 

You can listen to a recording of their song at this link:  American Dipper Call


Julie said...

Lucky you! How great to come across him! There must be a nest around there somewhere; it could be quite old too! Cool!
What a beautiful call. Neat bird.

Linda said...

I'll have to watch for this little guy.