The Water Ouzel (American Dipper) Foraging

by Larry Jordan on July 16, 2012

American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) photos by Larry Jordan

The Water Ouzel, as John Muir called it, is now known as the American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus). I still prefer the Water Ouzel (click on photos for full sized images).

This amazing bird is resident on fast-flowing mountain streams and cold coastal streams and usually lives on its territory year round as long as the water flows.

Luckily for me, there is at least one pair of Water Ouzels that reside near the ranger station on Manzanita Lake near the north entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

A fellow birder told me that she had seen a family of American Dippers on Hat Creek and I knew exactly where she saw them because we see them every year on our Audubon Outing at Lassen Park in that same location. I had never seen them with their offspring before, so I made my way up there to try to get some video of their amazing talents.

This is the adult showing its foraging prowess to its fledgling that was nearby. It was early in the morning and the sun had not reached this part of the stream yet but, as luck would have it, I sat on the creek bank as the bird came ever closer to me.

The Water Ouzel’s distinctive traits include frequent dipping, a blinking white eyelid, and vigorous feeding by jumping or diving into turbulent water even at ambient temperatures well below 0°C1. That’s right, this water is freezing, it’s snow melt!

The orangish lower mandible on the bird pictured above denotes a juvenile. The white throat is another indicator that this is a juvenile.

This, the only North American aquatic passerine, feeds mostly on aquatic insects and insect larvae.

They feed almost exclusively in water by walking, swimming and diving, but they also pick food from streamside vegetation.

I’m including this slightly blurry photo because it shows the bird’s distinctive white eyelid.

After nearly an hour of feeding, this juvenile hopped up on a log near its parent and preened in the sunlight.

To see these amazing birds actually flying and feeding underwater, check out this National Geographic video on the Water Ouzel.

To see more great bird photos, check out this new bird meme “the BIRD D’Pot” hosted by Anni of I’D Rather B Birdin’!

References: 1Birds of North America Online

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

I'd Rather B Birdin July 17, 2012 at 3:14 am

Excellent post….along with the videos and your spectacular images. I especially like the photo you’ve shared of its ‘namesake’…where it’s ‘dipping’ in the water. They’re very pretty too.

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TexWisGirl July 17, 2012 at 6:15 am

quite adorable little birds – amazing how they stick their whole head under water and dip so much with such a small beak.

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dreamfalcon July 17, 2012 at 10:50 am

Interesting. I have never heard the name “Water Ouzel” before. It sounds like the German name of the “White Throated Dipper” we have in Europe: Wasser Amsel.
I remember so well when I first saw a Dipper here in Switzerland – I had no idea what looked like a song bird and just jumped into the water and resurfaced only after some time 🙂
Thanks for the great photos and video!

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Adam Jones July 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm

A great bird to see. Similar to our Dipper in the UK. Always interesting watch as they forage in the water.

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Modesto Viegas (Portugal) July 18, 2012 at 8:43 am

GREAT POST!
THANKS FOR SHARING.

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holdingmoments July 19, 2012 at 2:58 am

Great captures Larry.

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