The American Pipit, formerly known as the Water Pipit, is a rather drab brown bird that is found in Tennessee only in the winter. It might be confused with a sparrow, but has a thin bill and a habit of bobbing its tail. This bird breeds in the arctic and alpine tundra across North America, and in migration and winter it uses coastal beaches and marshes, short grassy pastures, recently plowed fields, mudflats, and other sparsely vegetated habitats across the southern United States south to El Salvador.
Description: This slender songbird is brownish-gray above with faint streaking, whitish-buffy below with moderate streaking, a buffy eyebrow stripe, a mostly dark slender bill, dark legs, and a tail with white outer tail feathers. American Pipits frequently bob their tails while standing.
Length: 6.5 inches
Wingspan: 11 inches
Weight: 0.75 ounces
- No other pipits are expected in Tennessee. Other pipits are extremely rare.
- The American Pipit is distinguished from other ground-dwelling passerines in similar habitat by its white outer tail feathers, long slender bill, and habit of bobbing its tail.
Habitat: Open habitat, sparsely vegetated fields, recently plowed fields, and riverbank mud flats.
Diet: Mainly terrestrial and freshwater insects and some seeds.
Nesting and reproduction: There has never been a documented nesting attempt by an American Pipit in Tennessee.
Status in Tennessee: American Pipits are a locally common statewide winter resident, more numerous in the southern parts of the state. They are an uncommon to common migrant statewide in the spring and fall, and may be found from early October to late April. Rangewide, populations appear to be stable.
Dynamic map of American Pipit eBird observations in Tennessee
- In a population of nesting pipits in the Beartooth Mountains of Wyoming, a snowstorm buried 17 American Pipit nests for 24 hours. All of the nestlings that were 11 days old or older amazingly survived, but only a few of the younger ones did.
Obsolete English Names: water pipit, brown lark, shore lark, titlark
Best places to see in Tennessee: Open agricultural fields and large grassy areas statewide from early October to late April.
For more information:
Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Verbeek, N. A. and P. Hendricks. 1994. American Pipit (Anthus rubescens), The Birds of North America, No. 095 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.