Bird Bits: A gray-feathered water football

The American Dipper is not a fair-weather bird; it's a permanent local that won't spend winter hunched inside the relative warmth of an open shed.

The American Dipper is not a fair-weather bird; it’s a permanent local that won’t spend winter hunched inside the relative warmth of an open shed.


Snow and ice may cover the banks of a stream, but if wedges of open water offer aquatic insects or small fish/fish eggs, the dipper will be wading and plunging in for a meal. In fact, a lot of meals will be needed to sustain it in the cold. These birds often feed in estuaries in the winter, which provides easy observation spots for birders.

Check out two books by local research naturalists Katherine Hocker and Mary Willson. The “Singer in the Stream” is more than an attractive children’s picture book (out of print but available in our libraries). “American Dippers: Singers in the Mountain Streams” might send you to the Juneau Audubon Society’s website — — to learn where you can locally observe this underwater river walker and other birds.

The American Dipper has an interesting collection of behaviors to point out. My favorite dipper behavior gives them their name. The stubby-tailed bird stands in place while its entire body bounces up and down, like an old fashioned toy. Lucky you if you spy its round ball of a nest behind a thin curtain of waterfall. While these birds are not as vocal in the winter as in the spring, the American dipper sings in the “off” season, as well.

On behalf of the Juneau Audubon Society, I would like to end the summer weekly “Bird Bits” with a drawing for the two dipper books mentioned above. To be entered in the drawing, send me an email at with your name and means to contact you. Note if you are interested in the childrens’ or the older readers’ book. Two winners will be drawn at random.

“Bird Bits” will continue on a once-a-month basis, featuring Juneau bird residents or wintering migrant birds.

• Patricia Wherry is the education chairperson for the Juneau Audubon Society. Contact her at


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