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American Pipit
Ballona Creek, CA
November 9, 2010


The Buff-bellied Pipit (Anthus rubescens) is a small passerine bird first described by Marmaduke Tunstall in his 1771 Ornithologia Britannica.

It has two distinctive subspecies: The American Pipit, A. r. rubescens, breeds in northern North America, extending further south in mountainous areas. The Japanese Pipit, A. r. japonicus, breeds not only in Japan but in most of north-central and northeast Asia. There are some sequence differences between these forms, and they might be considered distinct species pending further research (Zink et al., 1997).

This species is closely related to Rock Pipit and Water Pipit, all three forms having previously been considered conspecific (Sangster et al., 2002). They can differentiated by their vocalizations (Leonovich et al, 1997) and some visual cues (Alström & Mild, 1996), but Rock and Buff-bellied Pipit do not co-occur except as vagrant individuals, and the ranges of Buff-bellied and Water Pipits overlap only in a small area in Central Asia (Nazarenko, 1978).

Both subspecies of Buff-bellied Pipit are migratory. The American Pipit winters on the Pacific coast of North America, and on the Atlantic coast from the southern USA to Central America. Asian birds winter mainly from Pakistan east to Japan and southeast Asia. The American and Asian subspecies are rare vagrants to western and eastern Europe respectively.

2007 was a record year for vagrancy to Europe by the nominate American form, with at least eight birds found in Iceland, the British Isles and France.

The breeding habitat of Buff-bellied Pipit is tundra, but outside the breeding season it is found in open lightly vegetated areas, similar to those favoured by Water Pipit.

Like most other pipits, this is an undistinguished looking species on the ground. American Pipit has lightly streaked grey-brown upperparts and is diffusely streaked below on the buff breast and flanks. The belly is whitish. The Asian form is darker above, and has bolder black streaking on its whiter underparts.

This species is insectivorous. Its call is a squeaky sip.

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