WEEK-BY-WEEK BIRDS TO SEEK: WEEK 39 PIPITS

EVERY WEEK THIS YEAR WE WILL HAVE NEW SUGGESTIONS FOR A DIFFERENT GROUP OF BIRDS TO LOOK FOR TO HELP DEVELOP YOUR #MY200BIRDYEAR LIST

This week, it is Pipits

There are four species of pipit which are regular visitors to the UK (plus a bunch of scarce and rare species, mainly from the east): Meadow Pipit, Tree Pipit, Rock Pipit and Water Pipit. Meadow and Rock Pipits are predominantly resident birds, found all year round. Tree Pipit is a summer visitor and Water Pipit is a winter visitor in small numbers.

Meadow Pipit

 Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipit

One of the classic Little Brown Jobs (LBJs) the Meadow Pipit is the ubiquitous, squeaky little pipit of open country ( found throughout the UK and Ireland. This is the bird against which you should judge all other pipits; so get to know it well. Meadow Pipits are small, ‘weak looking’ pipits with short wings and a weak flight and rather feeble ‘see see see’ call. The back is boldly streaked, the breast and belly have black streaks of roughly even size and there is usually a reasonably well-defined pale eyering. The legs are pale pinkish and if you get a decent look, the hind claw is long and curved. Be aware that Meadow Pipits are variable in appearance!

Tree Pipit

 Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit

Quite similar at first glance to the Meadow Pipit, the Tree Pipit is a more robust bird, with longer wings and a stubbier bill. The face has a distinctive pattern, usually with a dark  line in front of the eye and a pale spot at the back of the ear coverts. The back is streaked but the breast streaking is bolder than the flanks streaking which is notably and characteristically fine. This is a summer visitor mainly to the west and north of the country but also further south and east where there are suitable heaths, newly planted conifers etc. . Almost buzzing ‘zeeez’ call. Sings its beautiful song from a tree top or in song flight parachuting from a tree.

Rock Pipit

 Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

The classic coastal pipit, particularly on rocky coasts (so especially in the north and west of the country), the easily overlooked Rock Pipit is like a larger, darker Meadow Pipit. Seen properly, it is not too difficult to identify, being a more robust bird, with a much plainer dark back (lacking the contrasting streaks) and much smudgier streaks on the underparts. The bill is correspondingly longer and stronger and the legs usually dark. Has a more piercing ‘feest’ call and a quite similar song to Meadow Pipit. Rock Pipits (probably from Scandinavia) appear inland as scarce passage birds in spring and autumn.

Water Pipit

 Water Pipit (winter plumage)

Water Pipit (winter plumage)

A close relative of the Rock Pipit (and formerly lumped), the Water Pipit breeds in high alpine country and winters on lower damp ground. Painfully shy and easy to fluch, whereupon it disappears into the far yonder, getting a good look can be a challenge. In winter plumage it is like a pale Rock Pipit, with whiter underparts, much finer streaking and a long pale supercilium. But the outer tail feathers are white not grey and the overall impression is of a much paler bird. Call similar to Rock Pipit’s.

All photos from Alamy