Water pipit -- 水鹨 (Anthus spinoletta)

Water pipit standing by water
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Water pipit fact file

Water pipit description

GenusAnthus (1)

The water pipit is a rather short and stocky bird. Males and females tend to look similar with greyish-brown upperparts and pale cream underparts (3), dark legs and a slender, dark bill (4). Black streaks run smoothly down the breast (3) and the outer tail feathers are white. The water pipit moults twice each year (5), revealing distinctive breeding plumage during the summer: a pinkish breast, grey head and a pale stripe above each eye (4).

Also known as
Rock pipit.
Length: 18 cm (2)
Wingspan: 26 cm (2)
23 g (2)

Water pipit biology

The water pipit feeds primarily on insects and larvae, as well as some plant material.  It picks items from the ground or from low-lying vegetation as it walks, and may also feed from tidal pools and beaches (8). Occasionally the water pipit catches insects on the wing by making short leaps or by taking flight from a perch (9).

The nest of the water pipit tends to be situated on the side of a steep bank or in a hollow, well concealed by overhanging vegetation, and is made from surrounding vegetation by the female (9). Females lay two clutches a year, consisting of four to five eggs, which are incubated for 15 to 16 days (2). The male and female both forage for their young and tend to feed them larger and slower arthropods that are easier to catch, in order to obtain the most food they can in the shortest time, to increase the survival chances of their young (10).


Water pipit range

The water pipit occurs in the colder parts and high mountains of the northern hemisphere (6), including Nepal, India, Pakistan, Europe, Africa, and North America (7). It winters in the warmer countries of Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, and in northern Africa and southern Asia (6).


Water pipit habitat

An inhabitant of mountain slopes and rocks above the treeline during summer, the water pipit descends in winter to wet meadows, watercress beds and sheltered estuaries (6).


Water pipit status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Water pipit threats

Globally, the water pipit is not considered to be threatened with extinction (1), although in certain parts of its range there is concern for this species. In Russia, water pipit populations declined between 1990 and 2000 (11), and in the United Kingdom in 2009 it was moved from the ‘green’ list (indicating no conservation concern) to the ‘amber’ list because less than 900 individuals now breed in Europe (12).

In some areas, grazing animals pose a threat to the water pipit. A study carried out in the Czech Republic, in the Orlické and Jeseníky Mountains, found that grazing by large herbivorous animals negatively influenced the success of nesting water pipits (13). This is thought to occur as grazing alters the vegetation structure and the availability of food, and the nests may also be directly damaged by trampling (13).

In the future, climate change could potentially pose a huge threat to the water pipit. A survey carried out in 2003 found slight rises in temperature are causing premature melts of the snow in the mountain meadows of the Feldberg Region, Germany (14). This allows the meadow pipit to encroach on water pipit territories, increasing competition for food and nesting sites between the two species, and decreasing the water pipit’s chances of survival (14).


Water pipit conservation

As this species is classified as Least Concern and has a large breeding population (1), there are currently no conservation measures known to be in place for this species.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.


This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


A very diverse phylum (a major grouping of animals) that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton).
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.


  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2009)
  2. Robinson, R.A. (2005) BirdFacts: Profiles of Birds Occurring in Britain and Ireland. BTO Research Report 407, BTO, Thetford. Available at:
  3. RSPB (November, 2009)
  4. Alström, P. and Mild, K. (1996) The identification of rock, water and buff-bellied pipits. Alula, 2(4): 161–175.
  5. Verbeek, N.A.M. (1973) Pterylosis and timing of molt of the water pipit. The Condor, 75(3): 287-292.
  6. Peterson, R.T. (1988) Bird of Texas. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.  
  7. Shrestha, T.K. (2001) Bird of Nepal: Field Ecology, Natural History and Conservation. Bimala Shrestha, Kathmandu, Nepal.
  8. Illinois Natural History Survey (November, 2009)
  9. Israel Birds (November, 2009)
  10. Brodmann, P.A and Reyer, H.U. (1999) Nestling provisioning in water pipits (Anthus spinoletta): do parents go for specific nutrients or profitable prey? Oecologia, 120(4): 506-514.
  11. Burfield, I. and van Bommel, F. (2004) Birds in Europe: Population Estimates, Trends and Conservation Status. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  12. Eaton, M.A., Brown, A.F., Noble, D.G., Musgrove, A.J., Hearn, R.D., Aebischer, N.J., Gibbons, D.W., Evans, A. and Gregory, R.D. (2009) Bird of Conservation Concern 3. British Birds, 102: 296-341.
  13. Pavel, V. (2004) The impact of grazing animals on nesting success of grassland passerines in farmland and natural habitats: a field experiment. Folia Zoologica, 53(2): 171-178.
  14. Ebenhoh, H. (2006) Population development of water pipit (Anthus spinoletta) and meadow pipit (A. pratensis) in the Felgberg region, Black Forest. Naturschutz sudl Oberrhein, 4: 11-19.

Image credit

Water pipit standing by water  
Water pipit standing by water

© Mike Wilkes / naturepl.com

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