Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Water pipit
Anthus spinoletta

 

Taxonomy
Occurence in Illinois
Status
Habitat associations
Guilds
Food-habits
Environmental associations
Life history
Management practices
References


TAXONOMY

 

  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Motacillidae
  • Genus: Anthus
  • Species: Anthus spinoletta
  • Authority: Linnaeus

Comments on taxonomy:
The subspecies most likely to occur in Illinois is Anthus spinoletta rubescens (Turnstall) *11*. Common name was American pipit *11*. Other names: American pipit; rock pipit; tit lark; wagtail *05*.

 


OCCURENCE IN ILLINOIS

Irregular and uncommon migrant in Illinois *01*. Known only as a migrant in Illinois *10*.

 


STATUS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories
Forest Service Categories: S = recommended for regional sensitive status, F = forest listed species, M = management indicator species

Federal Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed for listing
Candidate for proposal Recovery plan approved Recovery plan received (USFWS)
Recovery plan in preparation Under notice of review Delisted
Migratory EPA indicator Forest Serv.- Shawnee species

State Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed

Other:

Game Furbearer Nongame protected
Sportfish Commercial Pest None of the above

Comments on status:
The water pipit is protected by the Illinois wildlife code of 1971 *03* and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 *04*.

 


HABITAT ASSOCIATIONS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories

General habitat:

Unknown Terrestrial Aquatic Riparian

USFS timber inventory forest size class:

Unknown Unstocked Seedling Sapling
Seedling/sapling Pole Mature Over mature

Land use and land cover:

Unknown   Urban Residential
Commercial
Industrial
Transportation, communication
Complex industrial/commercial
Mixed
Other
Agricultural Crop, pasture
Orchards, groves, nurseries
Feedlot
Other
Rangeland Herbaceous
Shrub and brush
Mixed
Forestland Deciduous
Evergreen
Mixed
Water Stream
Lake
Reservoir
Bay
Wetland Forest
Non-forest
Barren Salt flat
Beach
Sand
Rock
Mine
Transit
Mix

 


Forest cover types: No records.

Associated tree species: No records.

 

National wetland inventory classifications:

SystemSubsystemClassSubclassWater regime modifiersWater chemistry
Palustrine   Flat Mud Inland mixosaline  

Comments on species-habitat associations:
Migrant habitat: open areas esp. newly plowed fields, short grass pastures, wet fields, wheat fields (plants less than 5 in. high), wet fields; also, mud flats, shores *01,05,06,09,10*.

High value habitats

HabitatStructural stageSeason
Cropland and pasture Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) Spring
Fall
Winter
Rangeland Grass-forb Spring
Fall
Winter
Beaches Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) Spring
Fall
Winter
Tundra Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) Spring
Prairie Grass-forb Spring
Fall
Sedge meadow Grass-forb Spring
Fall
Winter
Agricultural field Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) Spring
Fall
Winter
Forageland Grass-forb Spring
Fall
Winter
Successional field Grass-forb Spring
Fall
Winter
Abandoned cropland Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) Spring
Fall
Winter
Roadways,buildings,cemeteries,etc. Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) Spring
Fall

Species-habitat interrelations: The water pipit is a migrant only in Illinois *01,10*. Nesting habitat is arctic tundra or alpine meadows of higher mountains *02, 05,06,07*. Winter habitat includes plowed fields, hay fields, winter wheat fields, old corn fields, cowpea, wet pastures, prairie, old fields, marshes, and occasionally dune or beach. Most winter in the southern United States *05,06,09*. The water pipit is found in Illinois during spring migration approx. March through May, and during autumn migration approx. Sept. through Nov., often in very large flocks *01,05,06*. Migrant habitat may be a variety of fields, open field situations such as newly plowed fields, wheat fields (plants less than 5 inches high), shortgrass pastures, wet fields, mudflats and occasionally shores. More often wet open areas than upland fields *01,05,06,09,10*. Water pipits are usually found on the ground but may perch on trees, fence posts and wires, or telegraph wires along roadsides *06*. Inland, water pipits forage for insects in all of the above listed field situations; coastal migrants may forage along salt marshes, in tidal pools, etc. *06*.

 


GUILDS

Feed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonFeed-guilds
Cropland and pasture
Beaches
Agricultural field
Abandoned cropland
Tundra
Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) Spring
Fall/winter
Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Terrestrial surface- invertebrates other than arthropods
Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of forbs
Prairie
Sedge meadow
Forageland
Successional field
Grass-forb Spring
Fall/winter
Terrestrial surface- arthropods
Terrestrial surface- invertebrates other than arthropods
Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface-flowers and fruits of forbs

Comments on feed-guilding:
The water pipit feeds on the ground; in short grass, low herbs, bare ground; walks about daintily picking insects from ground or low vegetation; may run or fly up from ground to catch an insect. Diet is composed mainly of insects; additional items: small molluscs, crustaceans, seeds, and berries. Feeding habitats during winter and migration include many field and open areas *05,06,07*. On alpine breeding grounds feed extensively on snow fields for wind blown insects *07*.

Breed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonBreed-Guilds
Tundra Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) Spring/summer Terrestrial surface
Terrestrial surface, bare ground (sand to rubble)
Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface, forb vegetation

Comments on breed-guilding:
The water pipit does not breed in Illinois *01,10*. Nesting habitat is open situations of tundra and above tree line in alpine meadows *02,05,07*. Nest is on ground, either a shallow scrape or with nest material (usually grasses, twigs; some hair). May use old nest. Nest is usually sheltered by a rock, bank, moss, hummock, etc. *05, 06,07*. In Wyoming, Verbeek (1970) found important features of breeding ground to be: snow-free early in season, having rough features, such as tussocks, rocks, eroded areas *07*.


FOOD-HABITS

Trophic level is OMNIVORE

Food itemLife stage/plant part
Angiospermae (flowering plants) Fruit/seeds
Poaceae (grass) Fruit/seeds
Annelida: Oligochaetes (earthorms)
Annelida: Hirudinae (leeches)
Adult
Mollusca Adult
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Adult
Crustaceans Adult
Insecta Larva, adult
Thysanura (bristletails) Adult
Collembola (springtails) Adult
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Adult
Hemiptera Larva, adult
Homoptera (cicadas, aphids) Adult
Coleoptera (beetles) Larva, adult
Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths) Larva, adult
Diptera (flies, midges, mosquitoes) Larva, adult
Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, bees) Adult
Important:
Insecta Larva, adult
Juvenile:
Insecta Larva, adult
Diptera (flies, midges, mosquitoes) Adult
Adult:
Angiospermae (flowering plants) Fruit/seeds
Poaceae (grass) Fruit/seeds
Annelida: Oligochaetes (earthorms)
Annelida: Hirudinae (leeches)
Adult
Mollusca Adult
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Adult
Crustaceans Adult
Insecta Larva, adult
Thysanura (bristletails) Adult
Collembola (springtails) Adult
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Adult
Hemiptera Larva, adult
Homoptera (cicadas, aphids) Adult
Coleoptera (beetles) Larva, adult
Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths) Larva, adult
Diptera (flies, midges, mosquitoes) Larva, adult
Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, bees) Adult

Comments on food habits: 
General: Diet is composed mainly of insects; additional items: small mollusks, crustaceans, seeds, and berries. In one study, insects comprised more than 77% of stomach contents - (of these 64% were injurious insect species). Another study found a high percentage of hemipterans, 77% of which were adults. In southern states many boll weevils are taken in cotton fields. Other insects eaten include: grasshoppers, crickets, aphids, maggots, caterpillars, flies, ground beetles, spiders. Seeds eaten have been described as: weed seeds, waste grain, small berries *05,06,07*.
Juvenile: Young are fed insects *07*. Johnson (1933) observed young being fed "flies and small larvae" at one nest *08*.
Adult: See general and important food habits [FH].


ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATIONS

General:

  • Air temperature:see comments
  • Substrate: rocks
  • Substrate: boulders
  • Flood plain: see comments
  • Elevation: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: saltwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: brackish water marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: coastal marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sandy beaches
  • Aquatic habitats: mud flats
  • Aquatic habitats: dunes
  • Aquatic habitats: tundra
  • Vegetation mosaics/edges: see comments
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: abandoned fields
  • Vegetation successional stage: sand dune
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland

Feeding juvenile:

  • Elevation: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: tundra

Resting juvenile:

  • Elevation: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: tundra

Feeding adult:

  • Flood plain: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: saltwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: brackish water marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: freshwater marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: coastal marsh
  • Aquatic habitats: sandy beaches
  • Aquatic habitats: mud flats
  • Aquatic habitats: dunes
  • Aquatic habitats: tundra
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: abandoned fields
  • Vegetation successional stage: sand dune
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland

Breeding adult:

  • Air temperature:see comments
  • Substrate: rocks
  • Substrate: boulders
  • Elevation: see comments
  • Aquatic habitats: tundra
  • Vegetation mosaics/edges: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments

Comments on environmental associations:
General: Winter and migrant habitat open field situations such as: croplands, plowed fields, pastures, wet grassy areas, mudflats, old or abandoned fields; in coastal areas may be found in marshes, on beaches or dunes *01,02,05,06,07,09,10*. Agricultural habitats include: corn fields, wheat fields (plant ave. Height less than 5 inches), hay fields, cowpea, plowed fields *05,06*.
Feeding and resting juvenile: Young raised in tundra or alpine habitat *02,06,09*.
Feeding and resting adult: For migrant resting and feeding habitat see species environmental associations comments.
Breeding adult: Egg-laying may be influenced by air temperatures *07*. Breeding grounds are in tundra and above tree line in mountains *02,07,09*. Nest is placed on ground, usually made of grasses, typically protected by overhanging vegetation, rock, bank, tussock *06,07,12*. In wyoming alpine study, important features of breeding grounds were: areas that were snow free early in the season and having rough features such as tussocks, rocks, or eroded spots *07*.


LIFE HISTORY

Origin: Native *01*.

Physical description: 6-7 in. long; wingspread 10-11 in.; sexes outwardly alike; plain gray-brown above, buffy below with streaking; white outer tail feathers; slender body, thin pointed bill; walks, often bobs tail; in flight dips up and down *05,09*.

Reproduction: Water pipits do not breed in Illinois *01,10*. In North America, breeds throughout Alaska on tundra and locally on mountain tops above tree line *02,05,09*. All information from Verbeek (1970) is on a different subspecies (A.s. alticola) than is found in Illinois (A.s. rubesens) *07,11*. Courtship flight and song typified by vertical flight (50-150 ft.) with tinkling song. For descriptions of displays see Bent (1950) *06*, Drury (1961) *12*, and Verbeek (1970) *07*. Average territory size in Wyoming alpine = 40 x 45 meters *07*. Some fighting between intruders occurs *06,12*. Female only, builds nest in 4-5 days *05,07*. Nest is placed on ground, usually made of grasses and twigs; may be only a shallow scrape without nest material; old nest sites sometimes used *06,07,12*. Nest which is placed in open areas is usually sheltered by a rock, hummock, sod, moss or other overhanging vegetation, and (in Wyoming) oriented away from prevailing wind *06,07*. Verbeek (1970) found 2 important criteria for nest location: an area that is snow-free early in the season and having rough features such as rocks, tussocks, or eroded areas *07*. Clutch size is 4-7, 4-5 most common. Eggs are gray white, thickly blotched with brown; ave. egg size = 19.9 x 14.7 mm *06,07*. Time of laying may be influenced by temperatures. Eggs are incubated approx. 14.5 days *07*. Only the female has a brood patch. At first only female may sit on nest, while the male brings food. Both parents feed young; Johnson (1933) observed nestlings fed mainly flies and small larvae. Fecal sacs of young are either eaten or carried away from the nest. Young leave the nest after approx. 13-14.5 days *07,08*. At this time the fledglings can fly short distances *07*. The young are fed by parents during their first 2 weeks out of the nest *06*. For a description of juvenile plummage see Bent (1950). 1st winter plummage following August molt is almost identical to adults *06*. Breeding success as calculated by Verbeek (1970) for 2 seasons in Wyoming alpine on A.s. alticola: 4.45 eggs per nest 1st year, 4.74 second year; 2.87 eggs hatched per nest first year, 3.85 second year; survival to fledgling stage - 2.05 per nest first year, 3.22 second year; of total number eggs laid, average number of young fledged for the two years was 56%. Water pipits lay one clutch per season. Most egg loss in Verbeek's (1970) study was due to predation on eggs and nest desertion.

Behavior: Adults molt in late summer *07*. As young become independent of parents, pipits gather in flocks and move from breeding grounds (usually August). Alpine birds of the west spread out over lowlands and plains. Migrating flocks may be very large. Most winter in the southern United States, but may range as far south as Guatemala. May winter as far north as Ohio and California *06*. Winter habitat found in many open field situations, esp. agricultural such as plowed fields, winter wheat, hay, old cornfield, cowpea, pasture; also prairie, marsh, shorelines *05,06, 09*. In autumn and winter water pipits typically utter call note only, which sounds like "pip-it," or a thin "jeet" *06,09*. Water pipits feed mainly on insects by walking about picking items from ground or low vegetation. Forage in many open situations on ground in short grass, low herbs, bare ground, open mud flats, etc. along coasts, water pipits may feed along beaches and in tidal pools *06*. Numbers of spring migrants, travelling in large flocks, peak in Ohio sometime between the very end of March and mid-April *06*. The water pipit is known as a migrant only in Illinois *10*. Bohlen (1978) lists it as an irregular and uncommon migrant and notes that in spring there is often an early and a late population. He lists approximate dates of occurrence in Illinois as late March - early May and mid- September - mid-November *01*. The water pipit's range is circumpolar; it breeds in Europe, Asia, and northern North America, and winters south to northern Africa, southern Asia and Central America *06*. For detailed range descriptions see Bent (1950) *06*.

Limiting factors: Verbeek (1970) in Wyoming alpine region found most egg losses were due to predation and nest desertion. Predators on eggs and nestlings were: deer mice and weasels; also some losses from tranpeling by sheep and burying by gophers. He saw one instance of nestling mortality caused by blow fly infestation *07*. Oldest bird 8 yrs. 10 mo. old *05*.

 


MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Beneficial:

  • Performing special survey prior to prescription
  • Performing field survey prior to prescription
  • Using of revegetated areas for general-use pastures
  • Develop/maintain prairie

Adverse:

  • Applying insecticide
  • Strip mining

 


REFERENCES

0. VANDERAH, G.C. 1986. ILL. NAT. HIST. SURV., 607 E. PEABODY DR., CHAMPAIGN, IL. 61820. (217)333-6846.

1. BOHLEN, H.D. 1978. AN ANNOTATED CHECK-LIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS STATE MUSEUM POPULAR SCIENCE SERIES. VOL. IX. 156 PP.

2. AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGISTS' UNION. 1983. CHECK-LIST OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. 6TH EDITION. ALLEN PRESS INC., LAWRENCE, KS. 877 PP.

3. ILLINOIS DEPARTEMNT OF CONSERVATION. 1980. CONSERVATION LAWS. CH. 61. WILDLIFE ART. II. PAR. 2.2. REPRINTED FROM ILLINOIS REVISED STATUTES, 1979. WEST PUBL. CO., ST. PAUL, MN. 123 PP.

4. U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE. 1983. CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS. TITLE 50. WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES. CHAPTER 1. PP. 11-18. 50 CFR 10.13. LIST OF MIGRATORY BIRDS. SPECIAL PUBL. FEDERAL REGISTER. GENERAL SERVICES ADMIN. OCTOBER 1.

5. TERRES, J. 1980. AUDUBON SOCIETY: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. ALFRED KNOPF, NEW YORK. 1109 PP.

6. BENT, A.C. 1950. LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN WAGTAILS, SHRIKES, VIREOS, AND THEIR ALLIES. SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION. U.S. NAT. MUSEUM BULL. 197 PP. 25-38.

7. VERBEEK, N.A.M. 1970. BREEDING ECOLOGY OF THE WATER PIPIT. AUK 87:425-451.

8. JOHNSON, H.S. 1933. NOTES ON THE FAMILY LIFE OF A PAIR OF AMERICAN PIPITS. WILSON BULL. 45:114-117.

9. PETERSON, R.T. 1980. A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS. HOUGHTON MIFFLIN CO., BOSTON. 1980. 384 PP.

10. RIDGWAY, R. 1889. THE ORNITHOLOGY OF ILLINOIS. PART I. DESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE. SPRINGFIELD, IL. HW ROKKER. P. 111-112.

11. AMERICAN ORNITHOLOGIST'S UNION. 1957. CHECK-LIST OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. FIFTH EDITION. LORD BALTIMORE PRESS INC. BALTIMORE, MARYLAND. 691 PP.

12. DRURY, W.H. JR. 1961. STUDIES OF THE BREEDING BIOLOGY OF THE HORNED LARK, WATER PIPIT, LAPLAND LONGSPUR, AND THE SNOW BUNTING ON BYLOT ISLAND, N.W. TERRITORY CANADA. BIRD BANDING 32:1-46.

 


 

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