Anthus spinolettawater pipit

Geographic Range

Water pipits (Anthus spinoletta) are found in a wide geographical range of the Palearctic region. They are most prevalent in the northern hemisphere in Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. Migration starts in early October, after these birds finish their molt in early September. A large dispersal of water pipits reach northern Italy and the Atlantic coast during migration. These birds frequently spend their winters in areas such as northern Africa and southern Asia. (Frelin, 1983; "Water Pipit (Anthus Spinoletta)", 2013)


Water pipits are found in the colder parts and higher mountains of the northern hemisphere. During the summer, they reside in mountain slopes and rocks above the tree line. During the winter, water pipits migrate and descend to wet meadows, watercress beds, and sheltered estuaries. No specific elevation ranges have been reported; however, they are typically found in the mountains and above the tree line, suggesting a higher elevational range. (Frelin, 1983; "Water Pipit (Anthus Spinoletta)", 2013)

  • Range depth
    0 to 0 m
    0.00 to 0.00 ft

Physical Description

Water pipits are small birds that range in size from 127 to 222 mm long, with a wingspan of 21 to 26 cm, and weigh between 19.5 to 24 grams. Water pipits do not have very distinguished characteristics. They have strong feet and relatively long toes. These birds are brown above and dark streaked buff below. They have dark legs, whiter outer tail feathers, and a long dark bill. Eurasian rock pipits and buff-bellied pipits were previously considered water pipit subspecies; however, they are now both recognized as their own unique species. Rock pipits are more closely related to water pipits than buff-bellied pipits. Although rock pipits are physically similar and inhabit the same general area as water pipits, they can be distinguished by their different songs and habitat types. Water pipits and buff-bellied pipits are generally not found in the same area, except for a small area in Central Asia. ("Wagtails and Pipits", 2008; Alström and Mild, 1996; Gill, 1995; Sangster, et al., 2002; Thomson, 1964; Van Tyne and Berger, 1976; Voelker, 1999)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    19.5 to 24 g
    0.69 to 0.85 oz
  • Average mass
    23.9 g
    0.84 oz
  • Range length
    127 to 222 mm
    5.00 to 8.74 in
  • Range wingspan
    21 to 26 cm
    8.27 to 10.24 in


Male and female water pipits are typically monogamous and maintain a life-long pair bond. Some cases of polyandry and polygyny exist, but occurrences are very rare. In order to find and attract mates, water pipits undergo molting, or shedding of their feathers in order to display distinctive breeding plumage during the summer. Another important aspect in finding and attracting a mate are vocal cues from singing. A male is considered more fit if he can sing for longer periods of time with higher frequencies and complexity, which is more attractive to females selecting a mate. A distinct song element, the ‘Snarr’, has been identified in water pipits as a rasping, or grating sound with a broad frequency band. It is quantified by the amount of Snarr and Snarr frequencies to obtain a Snarr score. When courting females, male water pipits with high Snarr scores mated more often than males with low Snarr scores. There is a positive correlation between male vocalization and reproductive success. (Bollmann and Reyer, 1999; Reyer, 1998)

Water pipits start nesting in late May or early June. Females produce 2 clutches of 3 to 7 eggs per year. On average, incubation lasts for 15 days. The average mass of a hatchling is 2.7 grams. After the 15th nestling day, the young fledge. As the young become independent, pipits gather in flocks and move away from breeding grounds. (Rauter and Reyer, 2000; Frelin, 1983)

  • Breeding interval
    Water pipits breed twice a year.
  • Breeding season
    These birds start breeding in late May or early June.
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 7
  • Average time to hatching
    15 days
  • Average fledging age
    15 days

Female water pipits build nests on the ground, which are typically made of grass. While the females incubate the eggs, the males forage for food to provide the brooding female. While only the females brood the altricial young, both parents provide the nestlings with sustenance. More energy is conserved when the parents obtain slower moving insects for their young to eat. Water pipits likely fledge before they are ready to fly and continue to receive parental care for 14 to 18 days like other members of family Motacillidae. (Rauter and Reyer, 2000)


The longest known lifespan of water pipits in the wild is approximately 8.8 years. While their average wild lifespan is not known, their close relatives have an average wild lifespan of 2 to 5 years. There is currently no information available regarding the lifespan of this species in captivity. (Gill, 1995; Terres, 1980)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    8.8 (high) years


Once water pipits become independent, they gather in flocks and migrate as a group away from breeding grounds; however, during the breeding season, they are more territorial, which helps them protect their young from predators. They are considered to be mainly terrestrial. Although their flight is strong, pipits usually walk or run on the ground. Members of genus Anthus exhibit a behavior known as 'anting', which involves rubbing insects on their feathers for either cleaning purposes or to reducing feather parasites, however, this behavior has not been directly studied in water pipits. (Thomson, 1964; Van Tyne and Berger, 1976)

  • Average territory size
    160 m^2

Home Range

Water pipits actively defended a 40 by 40 meter area around their nests. However, they are not limited to a specific territory. The species frequently forages beyond their actively claimed areas. (Hendricks, 1986)

Communication and Perception

Water pipits primarily communicate with others through sight and sound. Senses are developed and used to detect prey as well as to avoid predators. Potential mates communicate through song, which is critical for reproduction. (Reyer, 1998)

Food Habits

Water pipits are mainly insectivorous. They feed on flies, beetles, grasshoppers, and other insects. In addition, water pipits eat spiders and occasionally small mollusks or crustaceans, small seeds, and other plant material. (Thomson, 1964)

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


While there are no specific studies on the anti-predator adaptations of water pipits, their brown coloration corresponds to the soil color and ground vegetation, which allows water pipits to be camouflage with their environment, making it harder for predators to spot them. These birds are known to be preyed upon by prairie falcons and snakes from family Viperidae. (Thomson, 1964)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

As insectivores, water pipits influence the insect population in their habitats. Water pipits also host brood parasitic cuckoos. Brood parasitism occurs when cuckoos place their eggs into a host's nest and allow their host to care for their eggs. This allows cuckoos to reduce their energy expenditure at the expense of their host. Water pipits also host chewing lice. (Dik, et al., 2010; "Cuculiformes - Cuckoos", 2010)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Water pipits are not generally recognized as having a positive economic importance for humans. Their insect consumption could potentially reduce the pest populations, which could be beneficial in lowering the amount of pests destroying crops or transmitting disease.

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative effects of water pipits on humans.

Conservation Status

According to the IUCN Red List, water pipits are classified as a species of least concern. Although overall, water pipits are not considered to be a species of great concern; their population is at risk in certain ranges. Their population has declined in Russia and the United Kingdom. In some areas, water pipit populations are at risk due to large herbivorous animals negatively affecting nesting success due to grazing and trampling. Climate changes can potentially pose a threat to water pipits as well. Slight rises in temperature cause snow to melt prematurely, which causes meadow pipits to encroach on water pipit territories. This leads to competition for the same resources, which affects water pipit survival. ("Anthus spinoletta", 2012; "Water Pipit (Anthus Spinoletta)", 2013)


Kimberly Cheng (author), The College of New Jersey, Matthew Wund (editor), The College of New Jersey, Leila Siciliano Martina (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



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

World Map


uses sound to communicate


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.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


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.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

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

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 area where a freshwater river meets the ocean and tidal influences result in fluctuations in salinity.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


mainly lives in water that is not salty.


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.

World Map

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).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


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.


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

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.


remains in the same area


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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


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


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


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Seabrook Island Natural History Group. 2010. "Cuculiformes - Cuckoos" (On-line). Birds of the World. Accessed April 13, 2014 at

2008. Wagtails and Pipits. Pp. 4627 in Gale Encyclopedia of Science, Vol. 6, 4 Edition. Detroit: Gale Cengage Learning.

Wildscreen. 2013. "Water Pipit (Anthus Spinoletta)" (On-line). Arkive. Accessed April 08, 2014 at

Alström, P., K. Mild. 1996. The Identification of Rock, Water and Buff-bellied Pipits. Alula, 2/4: 161-175.

Baer, B. 2010. The relative importance of habitat structure and of prey characteristics for the foraging success of water pipits (Anthus spinoletta). Ethology, 103/3: 222-235.

Bollmann, K., H. Reyer. 1999. Why does monogamy prevail in the Alpine water pipit Anthus spinoletta?. Zurich Open Repository and Archive, 22: 2666-2688. Accessed March 18, 2014 at

Bollmann, K., A. Schläpfer. 1997. The importance of food quantity and quality for reproductive performance in alpine water pipits (Anthus spinoletta). Oecologia, 109: 200-208.

Dik, B., M. Kirpik, ̧. ̧Sekercioğlu, Y. ̧Saşmaz. 2010. Chewing lice (Phthiraptera) found on songbirds (Passeriformes) in Turkey. Original Investigation, 35: 34-39.

Frelin, C. 1983. A study of water pipits (Anthus spinoletta spinoletta) in the post-reproductive period. Moult, flocking, and preparation for migration. Alauda, 51/1: 11-26.

Gill, F. 1995. Ornithology, 2nd edition. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Hendricks, P. 1986. Foraging patterns of water pipits (Anthus spinoletta) with nestlings. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 65/6: 1522-1529.

Rauter, C., H. Reyer. 2000. Thermal and energetic consequences of nest location and breeding times in water pipits (Anthus spinoletta). Journal für Ornithologie, 141/4: 391-407.

Reyer, H. 1998. Singing and mating success in water pipits: one specific song element makes all the difference. Animal Behavior, 55: 1471-1481. Accessed March 04, 2014 at

Sangster, G., A. Knox, A. Helbig, D. Parkin. 2002. Taxonomic recommendations for European birds. Ibis, 144/1: 153-159.

Terres, J. 1980. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. New York: Knopf.

Thomson, A. 1964. New Dictionary of Birds. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Van Tyne, J., A. Berger. 1976. Fundamentals of Ornithology, 2nd edition. New York: Johny Wiley & Sons, Inc..

Voelker, G. 1999. Molecular evolutionary relationships in the avian genus Anthus (Pipits: Motacillidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 11/1: 84-94. Accessed April 13, 2014 at