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American Pipit

Anthus rubescens

Length: 6.5 inches Wingspan: 10 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Brownish-gray upperparts, light buff underparts with streaks on the chest

American Pipit - Anthus rubescensRelated to a group called the "wagtails", American Pipits share their habit of wagging their tails when walking over open territory.  They can be found throughout North America at some point during the year, nesting in the far north and high elevations in the west in summer, migrating throughout much of the continent in spring and fall, and wintering in in the southern U.S. and near the coasts. 

American Pipits are formerly known as the "Water Pipit", and they are often found near water sources. In migration in South Dakota, beaches, gravel roads cutting through wetlands and lakes, and rocky rip-rap alone lake shorelines are some of the best locations to find them. The species is also found in the eastern Hemisphere, where they are known as the "Buff-bellied Pipit"


Prefers open terrain during migration through the state, including mudflats, beaches, sandbars, and barren fields. I've also often found them on rocky rip-rap around lakes and reservoirs in South Dakota. American Pipits are unique in that they have two very different areas they breed during the summer months, with the one common feature for both is colder temperatures. Throughout western  North America, they breed in scattered locations in and around barren areas in high-elevation alpine habitat. They also can be found as a breeding bird in far northern North America in tundra habitats.


Mostly insects.  Will also eat seeds, especially those wintering inland.


Feeds by walking along the ground, looking for insects.  They are normally found in flocks, except during the breeding season.


Non-breeder in South Dakota, with their breeding grounds at higher elevation in scattered locations throughout western North America, and in northern Canada and Alaska. The nest of an American Pipit is a small cup of grasses, lined with finer grasses and hair, placed in an open location, but with the nest site placed next to a rock or clump of vegetation to partially protect it. The female lays between 3 and 6 eggs, and she alone incubates them. Incubation lasts about 12-14 days, with the young fledging from the nest after another 12-14 days.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click to access an interactive eBird map of American Pipit sightings


Rapid series in flight of chweee-chweee-chweee. They also have a call that sounds, surprisingly like "pi-pit", with the second part higher in pitch.


Summers in Northern Canada, British Columbia, Alaska, and high elevations in the Rocky Mountains.  Winters in the southern U.S., along the coasts, and points south.

Similar Species:

American Pipits are rather unique in plumage and structure, a "robin" or thrush-type structure and size, but with a unique plumage and only one other close relative in South Dakota. Here are the species most likely to be confused with an American Pipit:

Sprague's Pipit - Anthus spragueii Sprague's Pipit - Anthus spragueii Vesper Sparrow - Pooecetes gramineus Vesper Sparrow - Pooecetes gramineus
Sprague's Pipit Sprague's Pipit Vesper Sparrow Vesper Sparrow

Conservation Status:

Systematic surveys in recent decades have shown small declines in overall populations of American Pipit. However, they are still found across a very broad geographic area, and are common in parts of their range. The IUCN considers the American Pipit to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

November 10th, 2008 - Wall Lake in Minnehaha County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution American Pipit photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
American Pipit - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common to uncommon fall migrant, rare spring migrant.  Fall migrants are most common in the northeast and north-central parts of the state.

Additional American Pipit Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 American Pipit 1 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 2 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 3 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 4 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 5 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 6 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 7 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 8 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 9 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 10 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 11 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 12 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 13 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 14 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 15 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 16 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 17 - Anthus rubescensAmerican Pipit 18 - Anthus rubescens