Diving Dippers

Dippers are cute and plump birds and are not intimidated even by the strongest currents (unlike me who shudders at even the thought of crossing a gentle flowing stream!). As the name might suggest, these birds love to take a dip in the water! But dip might be an understatement.

Dippers are small birds that are commonly found near fast moving streams. In the Himalayas you are likely to spot this bird near gushing mountain and upland streams. What is most interesting is their behaviour and how their habitats are so specific to running water streams. For example, during our numerous visits to the Himalayas, we always sighted Dippers alone or in pairs, in places where water was flowing and mostly unpolluted. A small stretch would at most have one or pair of Dippers.

Image: It is fun to spot Dippers on field because if they are not moving, they can be camouflaged like this juvenile one. But their enthusiastic foraging behaviour gives them away!

There are two species of Dippers found in India. There is the Brown Dipper and the White-throated Dipper. As the name suggests, the former appears more brown and the latter has an obvious white throat. However, while one cannot tell between the sexes in Dippers, juveniles can easily be told apart.

Image: A juvenile Brown Dipper characterised by the heavy spotting on the throat and breast. This juvenile Dipper was comfortably settled on this huge rock, which was surrounded by gushing water (as you can see in the background). It spent a considerable amount of time preening and resting on this rock. Location: Great Himalayan National Park (2019)

Dippers can be found at altitudes as high as 5000m above sea level. Even in general, they are found in relatively high altitudes and so you can imagine how freezing the water must be at these heights!

Image: White-throated Dipper from Ladakh.
(Photo Credit: Ashwin Mohan)

So while we are making sure our feet and shoes don’t get wet in the ice-cold water, we see dippers taking an almost suicidal dive into the gushing ice-cold water and then reappearing from else where! Their insatiable taste for invertebrate critters is satisfied by their amazing hunting and swimming abilities. Here is an incredible video showing their diving behaviour.

Video: The Brown Dipper taking a dive into that gushing water twice. Bravo!! Western Himalayas, June 2018
(Video by Ashwin Mohan)

At other times, they may lazily walk at the edge of the river banks searching for its prey.

Video: Foraging behavior of the Brown Dipper near the water banks, GHNP, June 2019.

Thanks to Ashwin Mohan for his inputs.

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My name is Adithi Muralidhar. I am a nature enthusiast based in Mumbai, India.

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