Water pipit ID- A study of 4 october ringed birds at Ottenby compared with a rock pipit!

All pictures ©Ottenby bird observatory. All of the water pipits (Anthus spinoletta) were age as 1cy birds, mainly because of no moult limits in the greater coverts (which was really hard to see even in the hand). Only one bird had moulted one inner greater covert (if I mind right). All birds (including the rock pipit, Anthus petrosus, 2cy+ bird) were ringed at 31 october 2019.


More reading about identification of water-/rock pipits can be found in Reino Anderssons excellent paper from 2012 (in Swedish): http://privat.bahnhof.se/wb198578/dokument/Andersson%20_primo%20_prt.pdf


Calls: The calls of water- and rock pipits is very similar to each others, and probably impossible to seperate in field. Although, some say that water pipit calls sound a little bit more sharp. Article about flight call identification, using sonograms: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325853846_Flight_call_identification_of_Rock_Pipit_and_Water_Pipit


Water pipit flight calls: https://www.xeno-canto.org/443345


Rock pipit flight calls: https://www.xeno-canto.org/447843


Behaviour: According to new unreleased studies (R.Andersson) there´s only water pipits that regularly moves the rear section up and down with smooth small motions such as grey wagtail etc. (like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8j8nwmmQ5VQ). Rock pipit tends to whip their tail up and down, like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJmc88kv_hc.

©Ottenby bird observatory. All 4 water pipits on the same picture.


©Ottenby bird observatory. Water pipit at the top and rock pipit at the bottom. Note the more clean and good looking appearance of the water pipit, with long and broad supercilium and pretty plain warm brown mantle. Water pipits also tend to show more clean yellow colour on the bill then rock pipits (R.Andersson, 2012). A god rule to have in mind while seperating the two species, is to compare water pipit with iliacus redwings (https://www.artportalen.se/Image/1949430) and rock pipit with coburni redwings (https://www.picfair.com/pics/08478594-icelandic-redwing-turdus-iliacus-coburni).

©Ottenby bird observatory. Water pipit at the left side and rock pipit at the right. Take notice off the more heavily streaked breast and belly with a olive tinge on the rock pipit, in contrast to the poorly streaked water pipit with a white ground color. ©Ottenby bird observatory. All four water pipits showing variation especially in breast- and face pattern.

©Ottenby bird observatory. All four water pipits showing variation especially in breast- and face pattern.

©Ottenby bird observatory. All four water pipits showing variation especially in breast- and face pattern.

©Ottenby bird observatory. 3 of the water pipits together with a rock pipit, bottom right corner.



©Ottenby bird observatory. Water pipit at the top and rock pipit at the bottom. Note the clean white ground colour at belly/breast /flanks on the water pipit, with small and clearly marked streaks, especially on the flanks. The rock pipit got a more olive-tinged colour on the breast/belly/flanks, with more solid and smeared streaks, especially on the flanks. Also note that the water pipit tends to show more yellow on the bild, in this picture.

©Ottenby bird observatory. All four water pipits showing variation in flank/belly pattern.


©Ottenby bird observatory. Water pipit at the top and rock pipit at the bottom. Note the more clean white tips to the coverts of the water pipit, while the rock pipit got more olive-tinged tips. Although, this picture is a bit misleading because that the rock pipit is a 2cy+ bird and the water pipit is a 1cy bird, which makes the difference in colouration of the covert tips bigger.

©Ottenby bird observatory. All 4 water pipits on the same picture, showing variation in covert tips.

©Ottenby bird observatory. Water pipit at the left side and rock pipit at the right. Note clean white undertail coverts on the water pipit vs olive coloured with black shaft on rock pipit.

©Ottenby bird observatory. Water pipit at the left side and rock pipit at the right. Note the slightly warmer brown uppertail coverts of the water pipit.

©Ottenby bird observatory. All 4 water pipits on the same picture, showing variation in uppertail coverts.

©Ottenby bird observatory. Water pipit at the left side and rock pipit at the right. Water pipits shows more white in t5 (second outermost tail feather) than rock pipits. Althugh this works in the hand, it´s hard to see in field, and especially at flying birds. So seeing some white colour flashing from the tail of a flying rock-/water pipit, does´nt mean water pipit (which I think many birders belive). Although, the water pipit got slightly cleaner white colour on these feathers, then the more dusky-white rock pipit.

©Ottenby bird observatory. All 4 water pipits on the same picture, showing variation in tail pattern and especially in t5 (second outermost tail feather).

©Ottenby bird observatory. Water pipit at the left side and rock pipit at the right. Mantle, back and uppertail coverts. Note heavily streaked mantle on the rock pipit vs the more plain and warm brown tinged mantle on the water pipit.

©Ottenby bird observatory. All 4 water pipits on the same picture, showing variation.

©Otttenby bird observatory. All 4 water pipits on the same picture, showing variation in mantle.

©Otttenby bird observatory. ©Ottenby bird observatory. 3 of the water pipits together with a rock pipit, bottom right corner. Showing diffrence in mantle.


Hope you got use of the article! Let´s get out and find some water pipits :)


Thanks to Ottenby bird observatory for letting me use their photolab pictures!

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