Posted by Greg Gillson
The habitat of the American Dipper (Cinclus americana) is usually clear, rushing, boulder-strewn, mountain streams, within tall conifer forests. For me, part of the joy of observing American Dippers is the associated mountain scenery, including grand forests, rushing streams, and roaring waterfalls.
Dippers feed mostly under water on aquatic insects, primarily caddis fly larvae, by wading, diving, and using their wings to "fly" under water. They float buoyantly and swim on the surface (poorly) by paddling with unwebbed toes. They frequently walk about on the gravelly bottom of streams, sometimes more than 6 feet under the surface of the water. They are usually first noticed bobbing ("dipping") on a rock midstream, thus their name, "dipper."
A colloquial name for the dipper is water ouzel. Ouzel is another name for the Common Blackbird (Turdus marula), a blackish European thrush similar to the American Robin (Turdus migratorius). Thus, "water ouzel" is bird that looks like the Common Blackbird but is found in the water, rather than in the garden. The White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus), found in Europe, looks superficially like the Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus), a thrush closely related to the Common Blackbird.
There are 5 species of dippers in the world, one each in North America, Europe, and Asia, and two species in South America.
All photos November 1, 2011 by Greg Gillson at the mouth of Scoggins Creek into Hagg Lake, Washington County, Oregon.
Editor's Note: I recall a post Greg did a couple years back about How to find a Dipper Nest, so I link to it here for your further reading enjoyment.