Friday, May 15, 2015

American Pipit

American Pipits breed across the Canadian Arctic, most of Alaska, and south through Rocky Mountain tundra into the United States. They winter in the southern United States, Mexico, and northern Central America. In Minnesota, they are uncommon spring and common fall migrants (Eckert). Last Wednesday, John Holden and I found this pipit at the 180th Street Marsh in Dakota County.

American Pipits vary in the amount of breast streaking. Non-breeding birds tend to be much heavier streaked than birds in breeding plumage. See my 2012 post, showing a heavily streaked bird I photographed near La Jolla, California. In that post, I commented that American Pipits used to be named Water Pipits, when our birds were considered to be races of European birds. Our birds received new nomenclature when ornithologists decided our birds are not races of the European pipits, but a species of their own.
Four races of American Pipit are currently recognized—one breeds above treeline, from northern Alaska to Newfoundland; a second breeds from Alaska south through the Rockies to Oregon; and a third breeds further south in the Rockies of the United States. The fourth race of the American Pipit, the Asian Pipit, breeds in eastern Siberia and winters from northern India to Japan. They only accidentally wander into the New World. Asian Pipits show a number of subtle plumage differences, and have pink legs (Hendricks and Verbeek 1012). In his field guide, Sibley illustrates an Asian Pipit.

I think the American Pipit is poorly named. To call the Siberian birds “American” seems absurd. It makes as much sense as naming the whole species “Siberian Pipits.” Buff-bellied Pipit, occasionally used at the subspecies level, might be a better species name.

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