Bobbing up and down on a rock jutting from the middle of a fast-moving mountain river, the AMDI blends in with its surroundings. Charcoal-gray, with pink legs, the only contrast a flash of white as it blinks showing its pale eyelids, it continues bobbing until it jumps into the swift moving water and disappears out of sight. The Water Ouzel as it was once known as is an anomaly amongst songbirds, spending a great deal of time swimming under the surface of the water, using its second eyelid, called a nictitating membrane, it can see underwater in search of food. The AMDI is an indicator species, meaning that when it's present, that is a good sign that the water is healthy. Amusing to watch, they also have a beautiful song that emanates along streams during the spring and summer. Truly a hardy bird and one that is synonymous with the Utah mountains.
Almost always found along fast-moving mountain streams and rivers. Habitat along the rivers doesn't seem to matter, as this species can be found in various habitats. Can also be found at lower elevations in winter when streams at higher elevations freeze.
Permanent resident throughout Utah where locally common to specific waterways, but generally uncommon in habitat as a whole. There is definitely altitudinal migration with birds descending to lower elevations in winter, and ascending to higher elevations during the breeding season. As long as fast-moving water remains open, birds may be present. It's not uncommon to find dippers in the mountain valleys in winter when they've moved downstream. Likelihood of detection about the same year round.
Typically feeds on aquatic insect including larvae of caddisflies, mayflies, beetles, bugs, and mosquitoes, as well as adults of these insects and many others. Feeding style is unique among North American songbirds, with the dipper diving into fast-moving water and "flying" beneath the surface or walking on the bottom as it probes for food on the streambed. Will also swim on the surface dipping just its head into the water to pick up floating insects or frantically jump from rock to rock on stream edges catching insects above the surface. Has been known to flycatch occasionally. Will also eat some worms, snail, fish eggs, and very small fish.
Courtship amongst AMDI is unique with males and females both capable of displaying a strut and song to each other. Nest sites can be found at natural locations as well as man-made structures. Natural sites are often placed where nest remains continuously wet from flying spray, and include ledges on mossy rock walls just above streams, within root systems on dirt banks, and behind waterfalls. It is not at all uncommon to find dipper nest underneath man-made bridges, and other structures crossing streams and rivers. Nests are typically dome-shaped from whatever surface they're built on and can be up to 12" in diameter and made of mosses, twigs, roots, and grasses. Nests contain 3-6 white eggs incubated by the female for 13-17 days. Both parents provide food for the young for 18-25 days before they fledge and are able to swim, dive, and feed on their own.
Best Places to Find
Pick a mountain rive,r and spend some time on a bridge, and you can probably find a dipper. But some of my favorite spots to find this species during the summer include the Provo River at the turnoff to Soapstone Basin in Summit County, Big Cottonwood Canyon near Storm Mountain in Salt Lake County, Little Cottonwood Canyon at Coalpit Gulch in Salt Lake County, and during the winter the Provo River at Vivian Park in Utah County, and Memory Grove in City Creek Canyon in Salt Lake County.