Alberta, Canada
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American Dipper
Cinclus mexicanus
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General Description

By Gustave J. Yaki

The dipper is a truly unique species. It is our only songbird that wades, dives and even swims underwater, in clear, rushing, mountain streams. One of five worldwide species, the American Dipper ranges from northwestern Alaska and the Aleutian Islands to western Panama. In Alberta, it lives along fast-moving waters in the mountains and foothills, from Jasper to Waterton Lakes National Parks.

In summer, dippers occupy upper elevation streams, seemingly unconcerned by casual human observers. In winter, when those streams are ice-covered, these hardy birds descend to lower altitudes to find open water, necessary for feeding purposes. Some then are seen along the Bow River at Baker Park, along the Elbow River below the Glenmore Dam all the way to the Macleod Trail bridge or on Fish Creek between Bridges 7-9. During extended cold periods, this species is likely all along the Bow River for it was found at Saskatoon, SK in 2002-03. It has also appeared in the Cypress Hills. However, where most of the birds winter it is still unknown.

The food of dippers consists entirely of animal life: aquatic insect, both adults and larvae, fish fry and eggs and other invertebrates.

The nest is always along a fast-flowing stream, often overhanging the water or even behind a waterfall. Usually, it is in a crevice on a bank or rock face, on a ledge under an overhang, in a fallen tree root, on crossbeams of a bridge or even in a box provided for that purpose. It is a bulky, domed nest composed of moss, lined with fine grasses. The downward-pointing, side entrance always faces the water. The four or five eggs, laid from mid April, are incubated by the female for about 18 days. The young leave the nest when 24-26 days old. They are able to swim and dive even before they can fly.

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Where to find American Dippers in Alberta   

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