Dipper behavior is very uniform throughout the genus. Dippers are rarely found more than a few feet from a stream and are usually seen perched on a boulder surrounded by rushing water, or flying rapidly (with a peculiar resemblance to an enormous bumble-bee) with whirring wing-beats a few inches above the surface. A characteristic activity of a perched dipper is a rapid series of bowing movements, which in white-chested species emphasizes that feature; bowing, or, "dipping," becomes more frequent and intense when birds are agitated or during territorial disputes. Dippers also blink rapidly, showing the white upper surface of the eyelid.

Uniquely among the passerines, dippers spend much of their time in water, frequently totally submerged for several seconds at a time. Birds may wade in shallow water; in deeper water they may dive head-first from a boulder or even from flight. Birds may also escape pursuing hawks by diving straight into water from mid-flight. Under water, birds overcome their natural buoyancy with rapid beating movements of the wings; although pebbles are occasionally grasped with the feet, wing movements are the main way that birds keep themselves on the bottom. Submerged birds have a silvery appearance due to entrapped air on their waterproof plumage.

Songs of dippers tend to be loud bubbling warbles; in the absence of loud water noise, they are audible at considerable distances; both sexes sing. Calls are sharp "zitting" sounds, audible above the sound of rushing water.

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