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Pipits

Pipits are songbirds of open country, whose approximately sixty-five species occur on all continents except Antarctica. They belong to the family Motacillidae within the perching birds (order Passeriformes). Their hind toe is elongated and curved. Unlike most songbirds they walk rather than hop. They have slender bills and long tails with white outer tail feathers. Songs are given in flight while circling high above the earth. Food items are principally invertebrates. The other members of the family are called “wagtails” from their habit of moving their long tail up and down as they move along the ground; they are usually brightly coloured, in contrast to the cryptic brown plumages of the pipits.

Six species of pipits and wagtails are found in North America. The only breeding species in Saskatchewan is Sprague’s pipit (Anthus spragueii), a denizen of native grasslands where little or no shrub is present. They tolerate light and moderate grazing. It is the only pipit endemic to North America, and because of cryptic plumage and behaviour this small (10–15 cm) bird is easily missed on the breeding grounds or in migration to the southern United States or central and northern Mexico. Sprague’s pipit is most commonly observed as a speck in the sky while it circles and sings a high-pitched, slightly descending tzsee-tzsee-tzsee-tzsee-tzsee.

The slightly larger (15–17 cm) American pipit (Anthus rubescens) breeds in the alpine or arctic tundra of North America and Eurasia. North American birds winter south to El Salvador but may be seen during migration in Saskatchewan, where they use open habitats with little or no vegetation such as beaches, mud flats, or ploughed fields.

Brenda C. Dale

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Further Reading

Alsop, Fred J., III. 2002. Birds of Canada. New York: Dorling Kindersley; Robbins, M.B. and B.C. Dale. 1999. “Sprague’s Pipit (Anthus spragueii).” In A. Poole and F. Gill (eds.), The Birds of North America. Philadelphia: The Birds of North America, Inc.; Verbeek, N.A.M. and P. Hendricks. 1994. “American Pipit (Anthus rubescens).” In A. Poole and F. Gill (eds.), The Birds of North America. Philadelphia: The Birds of North America, Inc.
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