Anthus cervinusred-throated pipit

Geographic Range

Red-throated pipits have a Holarctic distribution. They breed from Arctic Scandinavia east across Russia to the Bering Strait, mainly above the Arctic Circle, except for the Kamchatka Peninsula. Their range extends into Alaska, breeding on St. Lawrence Island, Little Diomede Island, and mainland Seward Peninsula north to Cape Lisburne. Red-throated pipits may breed in arctic Yukon as well. There are two main wintering areas: Eastern European and Russian birds winter in sub-Saharan Africa, from Mauritiana and the Ivory Coast, east to Ethiopia, southern Somalia, Tanzania, and northeast Democratic Republic of Congo. Birds from Siberia and North America winter in China south of the Yangtze River, Thailand, Cambodia, and northern Indonesia.

Populations of red-throated pipits migrate through central Europe in October, peaking in Israel in late October or early November. They arrive at their wintering grounds on the Sudan coast in mid-September and Kenya in late October. Populations arrive at breeding grounds in Siberia in the first two weeks of May, extending into early June. Red-throated pipits are fairly common migrants in the western Aleutian Islands, especially in fall. (American Ornithologists Union, 1998; Cramp, 1988; Keith et al., 1992)


Red-throated pipits breed on hilly, rolling tundra, preferably in wet depressions with bushes to perch on. In Scandinavia they breed on bare mountain tundra, swampland of the willow-zone, and grassy openings in short, upland birch forest. In North America densities are highest on the northern Seward Peninsula where they breed in lush, grassy tundra and hillsides with bushes. In winter and migration they are found mainly in damp grasslands, agricultural fields, meadows and grassy edges of lakes. They have also been observed foraging in washed up kelp on beaches during winter. (Alstrom and Mild, 2003; Svensson and Grant, 1999)

Physical Description

Red-throated pipits are small pipits with medium-long tails and pinkish legs. The upper mandible is black and the lower mandible is pinkish at the base, with a black bill tip. Body length ranges from 14.5 to 15 cm and wingspan from 17.0 to 18.3 cm. Sexes are similar, females and first-winter males lack the mature male's extensive rosy-pinkish wash on the throat, breast, and face.

Two main adult plumages have been reported: alternate (breeding) and basic (non-breeding). Juvenile/first-winter plumage is retained in young birds for approximately one year. Moult into alternate plumage occurs from January to March. Alternate adult plumaged birds exhibit a rosy-pinkish wash on the supercillium, throat, and upper breast, which no other pipit species has. This contrasts with the heavily streaked sides, flanks, back, and uppertail coverts. Moult into basic adult plumage begins in July and August and completes from August to September. Basic plumage is nearly identical to alternate, but the greater coverts lack contrast. Post-juvenile/first-winter moult timing is similar to the timing of basic plumage molt. Juvenile/first-winter plumage resembles that of adults, but lacks the rosy-pinkish wash. The supercillium, throat, and upper breast are whitish, and the crown, nape, and auriculars are brown, which contrasts with the pale supercillium and sub-moustacial stripe.

Juvenile/first-winter plumage is very similar to that of adult Pechora pipits (Anthus gustavi)and may be distinguished by the wider buff edges of the tertials, a less strongly streaked crown, buffier mantle stripes, and a smaller bill. Pechora pipits have noticeably longer primary feathers. (Alstrom and Mild, 2003)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range length
    14.5 to 15 cm
    5.71 to 5.91 in
  • Range wingspan
    17.0 to 18.3 cm
    6.69 to 7.20 in
  • Average wingspan
    17.5 cm
    6.89 in


Mate selection and pair bond formation most likely occurs on the breeding grounds. Males arrive earlier, from late May to the second week of June, to establish territories. Males begin to sing once they have established a territory. Songs and flight displays are important in pair formation and mate attraction. During the flight display male pipits ascend to 10 to 20 m, at which point they begin to "parachute" down with depressed wings and slightly closed tails while singing. A different variation consists of a pipit flying horizontal to the ground with fluttering wing beats until 50 m is reached, then parachuting down. Flight displays are also important in territory defense. (Alstrom and Mild, 2003; Cramp, 1988)

Sexual maturity is reached at approximately one year of age. Red-throated pipits breed once per year with one clutch produced. Little data on breeding exists for this species and is largely anectdotal. Pairs carrying nesting material have been observed on Sevokuk and the Cape Mountains, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska in June. Nests have been found from 18 to 24 June on Alaska's Seward Peninsula. A nest found near Wales, Alaska on 29 June 1931, contained four light buff eggs with irregular grayish spotting and wash. It was located on the ground, on a hilltop. Eggs measured from 20.6 to 20.9 mm in length by 15.2 to 15.4 mm in width. The nest consists of "fine, light-brown, hair-like long grasses," but the rim was composed of coarser, broader blades. The outside nest diameter was 3.5 inches, inside diameter 2.25 inches, outside depth 2.25 inches, and inside depth 0.875 inches. Juveniles being fed by parents have been found on St. Lawrence Island on 28 July.

Closely related American pipits (Anthus rubescens) produce clutches of from 3 to 7 eggs that hatch in 16 to 25 days. Hatchlings are from 1.6 to 2.4 grams at emergence. Hatchlings fledge in about 2 weeks, at which time they become largely independent. This may be similar to clutch sizes and maturation rates in red-throated pipits, although those values are not reported in the literature. (Bailey, 1932; Kessel and Gibson, 1978)

  • Breeding interval
    Red-throated pipits breed once yearly, producing one clutch.
  • Breeding season
    Available evidence suggests breeding occurs in June and July.
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Males initially scrape out a depression for the nest and females generally build the nest. Incubation is done exclusively by the female over a period of 12 to 14 days and males do most of the foraging for prey for hatchlings in closely related American pipits (Anthus rubescens). (Cramp, 1988)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents


There is little data on red-throated pipit longevity. An individual American pipit, Anthus rubescens, lived 5 yrs, 1 month. (Verbeek and Hendricks, 2008)


Red-throated pipits, along with other species in the genus Anthus, are known for their cryptic habits and plumage. They forage mainly on the ground, often in thick grasses, and perch on bushes, small trees, and rocks. When disturbed, they flush off the ground and fly with erratic, jerky strokes to another location. They also stand and pump their tails up and down when agitated. Red-throated pipits are migratory and often found in mixed flocks during migration and winter. Winter flocks may be quite large and also contain larks (Alaudidae) and sparrows and buntings (Emberizidae). On the breeding grounds red-throated pipits are territorial. Territories are maintained by songs and flight displays performed by males. The song is usually sung from a perch and is quite variable, consisting of rapidly repeated "tzwee" and "tsee" notes as a series. Call notes are given when flushed, on migration, or when stressed. The general call is a thin, high-pitched, and very clear "pssih." (Alstrom and Mild, 2003)

Home Range

Territory sizes are not known in red-throated pipits.

Communication and Perception

Red-throated pipits communicate mainly through song to maintain territories and attract mates. Call notes are used to maintain contact with mates, other individuals in migration, and given during agitation (such as a predator near a nest). The flight display is a type of visual communication used also in mate attraction and territory maintenance. (Alstrom and Mild, 2003)

Food Habits

Red-throated pipits forage in short and dense grass by walking. Repeated darting and crouching postures are used to capture food. Prey consists mainly of insects, but some seed material is also taken. There is little information on the composition and frequency of prey items taken. Other studies on members of the genus Anthus find that chironomid midge larvae and beetles are consumed frequently. (Alstrom and Mild, 2003)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


Red-throated pipits have cryptic plumage which blends into the ground and grass. The pattern of plumage on the back is light brown, with frequent black, lateral streaking that helps to break up the image of the bird. Individuals may remain motionless as a predator passes by or dart undetected from patches of cover. There is little information on predation on this species. Closely related pipits are frequently preyed on by falcons (Falco species) , harriers (Circus species), and weasels (Mustela). (Alstrom and Mild, 2003)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

As a numerous species in arctic and subarctic ecosystems, red-throated pipits are prey for a large number of predator species. Pipits are known hosts of nematodes, mites, and feather lice. There has been little research on ecological relationships of this species. (Cramp, 1988)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Bird-watchers enjoy watching this species and may engage in ecotourist activities to see these, and other, arctic birds.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of red-throated pipits on humans.

Conservation Status

Little data exists as to the conservation status of this species. Recent IUCN population estimates placed red-throated pipit world population in the range of 500,000 to 5,000,000 individuals. Populations are considered stable as their geographic range is large and there are many individuals. However, global climate change may result in the loss of habitat for this species.


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Zach Gayk (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec R. Lindsay (editor, instructor), Northern Michigan University.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.

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Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


Coniferous or boreal forest, located in a band across northern North America, Europe, and Asia. This terrestrial biome also occurs at high elevations. Long, cold winters and short, wet summers. Few species of trees are present; these are primarily conifers that grow in dense stands with little undergrowth. Some deciduous trees also may be present.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


uses sight to communicate


Alstrom, P., K. Mild. 2003. Pipits and Wagtails. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

American Ornithologists Union, 1998. Checklist of North American Birds. 7th ed..

Bailey, A. 1932. Additional Records from Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska. Condor: 47. Accessed April 10, 2008 at

Cramp, S. 1988. The birds of the Western Palearctic. Oxford, UK: Oxford Unifersity Press.

Keith et al., 1992. The birds of Africa Vol. IV.. London:

Kessel, B., D. Gibson. 1978. Status and Distribution of Alaska Birds. Cooper Ornithological Society.

Svensson, L., P. Grant. 1999. Birds of Europe. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Verbeek, N., P. Hendricks. 2008. "The Birds of North America Online: American Pipit" (On-line). Accessed April 02, 2008 at

Voelker, G. 1999. Molecular evolutionary relationships in the avian genus Anthus (Pipits: Motacillidae).. Molecular Phylogenetic Evolution, 11: 84-89.