Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
CINCLUS AMERICANUS, Swains.
[Now known as Cinclus mexicanus.]
PLATE CXXXVII.--MALE AND FEMALE.
The specimens from which the figures here given have been taken, were
procured on the Rocky Mountains, on the 15th of June, when they were supposed to
be breeding, so that they were probably adults in full plumage. Having little
taste for critical discussions, I shall refrain from inflicting on the reader a
long and elaborate review of all that has been said on the subject of this
interesting but little-known bird, which was figured by the Prince of MUSIGNANO
from a specimen obtained near the sources of the Athabasca river, under the name
of Cinclus Pallasii; and has been described by Mr. SWAINSON, first as C.
Mexicanus, and again, in the Fauna Boreali-Americana, as C. Americanus.
Unfortunately very little is known respecting the habits of the American Dipper,
which, however, being in form and size so very similar to that of Europe,
probably resembles it in its mode of life. I will therefore endeavour to supply
the deficiency by presenting you with some extracts from the history of the
latter, as given by my friend WILLIAM MACGILLIVRAY, of Edinburgh, who, among the
wild hills of his native country, has studied its habits with a zeal and
acuteness certainly not exceeded by those of any ornithologist.
"This bird having in a particular manner engaged my attention in the course
of my many rambles, I have been enabled to trace its history in a satisfactory
degree, so that the account here presented of it I consider as amongst the most
accurate of those which I have written.
"It frequents the sides of rivers and streams of inferior magnitude,
especially such as are clear and rapid, with pebbly or rocky margins. I have
met with it in every part of Scotland, as well as in the hilly parts of
Cumberland and Westmoreland, and it is said by MONTAGU to occur in Wales and
Devonshire. In Scotland it is not peculiar to the mountainous regions, being
found in the lowest parts of the Lothians, as well as on the alpine rills of the
Grampians, and other elevated tracts, but it is generally more abundant in hilly
ground, and, although never common in any district, is nowhere more plentiful
than on the Tweed and its tributaries, in the pastoral counties of Peebles and
Selkirk. It is also a well-known inhabitant of all the larger Hebrides. It is
not only a permanent resident, but seldom shifts its station to any great
extent, excepting during continued frosts, when it descends along the streams,
and is seen flitting about by the rapids and falls. Mill-dams are also
favourite resorts, especially in winter and spring. On lakes having a muddy or
peaty bottom I have never observed it; but it may sometimes be seen on those
which are shallow and pebbly at the margins, as on St. Mary's Loch in Yarrow,
where I have shot it.
"The flight of the Dipper is steady, direct, and rapid, like that of the
Kingfisher, being effected by regularly timed and quick beats of the wings,
without intermissions or sailings. It perches on stones or projecting crags by
the sides of streams, or in the water, where it may be seen frequently inclining
the breast downwards, and jerking up the tail, much in the manner of the
Wheatear and Stonechat, and still more of the Wren; its legs bent, its neck
retracted, and its wings slightly drooping. It plunges into the water, not
dreading the force of the current, dives, and makes its way beneath the surface,
generally moving against the stream, and often with surprising speed. It does
not, however, immerse itself head foremost from on high like the Kingfisher, the
Tern, or the Gannet; but either walks out into the water, or alights upon its
surface, and then plunges like an Auk or a Guillemot, slightly opening its
wings, and disappearing with an agility and dexterity that indicate its
proficiency in diving. I have seen it moving under water in situations where I
could observe it with certainty, and I readily perceived that its actions were
precisely similar to those of the Divers, Mergansers, and Cormorants, which I
have often watched from an eminence, as they pursued the shoals of sand-eels
along the sandy shores of the Hebrides. It in fact flew, not merely using the
wing, from the carpal joint, but extending it considerably and employing its
whole extent, just as if advancing in the air. The general direction of the
body in these circumstances is obliquely downwards; and great force is evidently
used to counteract the effects of gravity, the bird finding it difficult to keep
itself at the bottom, and when it relaxes its efforts coming to the surface like
a cork. MONTAGU has well described the appearance which it presents under such
circumstances:--"In one or two instances, where we have been able to perceive it
under water, it appeared to tumble about in a very extraordinary manner, with
its head downwards, as if picking something; and at the same time great exertion
was used, both by the wings and legs." This tumbling, however, is observed only
when it is engaged in a strong current, and its appearance is greatly magnified
by the unequal refraction caused by the varying inequalities of the surface of
the water. When searching for food, it does not proceed to great distances
under water; but, alighting on some spot, sinks, and soon reappears in the
immediate neighbourhood, when it either dives again, or rises on wing to drop
somewhere else on the stream, or settle on a stone. Often from a shelving crag
or large stone it may be seen making short incursions into the water, running
out with quiet activity, and presently bobbing up to the surface, and regaining
its perch by swimming or wading. The assertion of its walking in the water, on
the bottom, which some persons have ventured, is not made good by observation,
nor countenanced by reason and the nature of things. The Dipper is by no means
a walking bird: even on land I have never seen it move more than a few steps,
which it accomplished by a kind of leaping motion. Its short legs and curved
claws are very ill adapted for running, but admirably calculated for securing a
steady footing on slippery stones, whether above or beneath the surface of the
water. Like the Kingfisher, it often remains a long time perched on a stone,
but in most other respects its habits are very dissimilar.
"On these occasions it is not difficult to approach it, provided due
precaution be used; but in general it is shy and easily alarmed. I have several
times shot at an individual which observed me as I was quietly walking up to it;
but it is not often that one remains until you come within shot. A method which
I have often successfully practised was to mark the position of the bird at a
distance, taking note of an object on the bank opposite to it, then make a
circuit, and suddenly come upon the spot. When one has been pursued either up
or down a stream for a quarter of a mile or so, it usually turns, to regain its
ordinary station, when it may be shot as it dashes past.
"On being wounded the Dipper commonly plunges into the water, flies beneath
its surface to the shore, and conceals itself among the stones or under the
bank. In fact, on all such occasions, if enough of life remains, it is sure to
hide itself, so that one requires to look sharply after it. In this respect it
greatly resembles the Common Gallinule.
"The food of the Dipper is said by authors to consist of small fishes, roe,
and water-insects. I have opened a great number of individuals, at all seasons
of the year, but have never found any other substances in the stomach than
Lymneae, Ancyli, Coleoptera, and grains of gravel. As to the ova and fry of the
salmon, there is no evidence whatever that the Dipper ever swallows them; and,
therefore, the persecution to which this bird has been subjected in consequence
of the mere suspicion, ought to cease until the fact be proved. That the
mollusca above mentioned form a principal part of its food was never suspected,
and therefore I was much pleased with making the discovery, which satisfactorily
accounted to me for all the subaqueous excursions of the species."
The only original observations respecting the habits of the American Dipper
that I have to present here are the following, with which I have been favoured
by Mr. TOWNSEND:--"This bird inhabits the clear mountain streams in the vicinity
of the Columbia river. When observed it was swimming among the rapids,
occasionally flying for short distances over the surface of the water, and then
diving into it, and reappearing after a long interval. Sometimes it will alight
along the margin, and jerk its tail upwards like a Wren. I did not hear it
utter any note. The stomach was found to contain fragments of fresh-water
snails. I observed that this bird did not alight on the surface of the water,
but dived immediately from the wing."
CINCLUS PALLASII, Bonap. Amer. Orn., vol. ii. p. 173.
AMERICANUS, American Dipper, Swains. & Rich. F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii.p. 173.
BLACK WATER-OUZEL or DIPPER, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 358.
AMERICAN DIPPER, Cinclus Americanus, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. iv. p. 493;vol. v. p. 303.
Bill rather short, slender, slightly ascending, much compressed toward the
end; upper mandible with its dorsal line slightly arched, the ridge rounded, the
sides convex, the edges sharp and inflected, with an obscure notch close to the
narrow slightly deflected tip; lower mandible slightly bent upwards, the angle
medial and very narrow, the dorsal line ascending and slightly convex, the tip
narrow and rather acute, the gape-line straight. Nostrils linear, direct, in
the lower and fore part of the nasal membrane, which is covered with very short
feathers. Eyes rather small; eyelids densely feathered.
The general form is short, full, and compact; the head oblong, compressed,
rather small; the neck rather short; the body rather deeper than broad. Legs
strong, of ordinary length; tarsus compressed, covered anteriorly with a long
undivided plate and four inferior scutella, posteriorly with two long plates
meeting at a very acute angle. Toes rather large and strong; the first, second,
and fourth, nearly equal in length, but the first much stronger, the third much
longer; the third and fourth united as far as the second joint of the latter.
Claws rather long, arched, much compressed, that of the hind toe considerably
Plumage very soft and blended, the feathers oblong and rounded; those about
the base of the bill very short and velvety. No bristles at the base of the
bill. Wings rather short, broad, convex, and rounded; the first quill very
short and narrow, being about a third of the length of the second, which is
shorter than the fourth, the third longest, and with the next three slightly cut
out on the outer web towards the end; secondary quills long, broad, and rounded.
Tail short, even, of twelve rather broad feathers, which are slightly decurved.
Legs feathered to the joint, but the tarsus entirely bare.
Bill brownish-black; iris hazel; feet flesh-coloured, toes dusky towards
the end; claws yellowish-grey. The general colour of the plumage is
blackish-grey or deep bluish-grey; the head and neck chocolate-brown, that
colour extending lower on the fore part of the neck than behind; the downy
feathers of both eyelids white; the quills and tail-feathers dusky; the
secondaries terminally margined with white.
Length to end of tail 7 1/2 inches; extent of wings 10 1/2; wing from
flexure 3 3/4; tail 2 1/4; bill along the ridge 9/12, along the edge of lower
mandible 11/12; tarsus 1 1/12; hind toe 5/12, its claw 4/12; middle toe 10/12,
its claw 4/12.
The female is in all respects similar to the male.
In form, size, and proportion, the American Dipper is almost precisely
similar to the European.