Family

CHAPTER

phylum class subclass order monotypic order suborder family

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Of all Passeriformes, or perching birds, dippers are the only true aquatic songbirds. They have plump bodies with short tails, strong legs, and powerful feet. Their preen, or oil, glands are larger than those found in most perching birds and help keep their feathers waterproof. This is essential because dippers spend most of their lives in or near rivers and streams. Their eyes have nictating membranes, or inner eyelids, that allow the birds to see underwater.

Most species are uniformly gray or brown, but some species have white heads or underbellies. All dippers have white eyelids and short, hard bills.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

Dippers can be found in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and the western regions of North and South America. Though conditions are suitable for dippers to nest in other areas, they have not done so.

HABITAT

Dippers make their nests above shallow mountain rivers and streams, behind waterfalls, and sometimes on rocky ledges beside mountain lakes. The water must be fast moving to keep it rich in oxygen and free of sediment and pollutants. Dippers will migrate south or to lower elevations when these water sources freeze in winter. The undersides of bridges over waterways and human-made nesting boxes have also become appropriate homes for dippers.

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