Winter birding in K-Country can be quite limited; chickadees, Clark’s nutcrackers, nuthatches, grosbeaks, ducks if there’s open water, Bald Eagles (eating the ducks), owls (if you’re lucky) and several kinds of woodpeckers. But one all-year resident is worth finding for it’s weird and unusual feeding and flying style.
The American Dipper makes it home along fast flowing streams where, in the winter, there are holes in the ice making large water patches available. It is not a particularly attractive bird; dull and uninspired grey. As you can see below, it blends in with the snow. But when it lands in or right beside the water, as it stands there, it engages in a series of the quick (and somewhat silly looking) deep knee bends. This is where it gets its name. It eats the underwater insects and bugs, and winters in the mountains here.
How does it survive our cold winters?
Dippers are superbly adapted for life in -30° air, and diving into +1° water. It has a second eyelid that acts like a scuba mask and allows it to see underwater. It has scales that allow it to close its nostrils underwater. And it has overly generous oil glands that keep its feathers waterproof and it warm.
Dippers set up a territory along a section of a creek, and fly up and down it, singing their heart out. If you’re near a babbling brook in winter and hear a song, it’s probably a Dipper.
Like the lichens, Dippers, too, are an indicator of good environmental health, as it is intolerant of water pollution or water turbidity. We know of Dippers that live on Pigeon Creek in Dead Man’s Flats, King Creek down in Peter Lougheed Park, both James Walker Creek and Commonwealth Creek near Mt. Engadine Lodge, Ribbon Creek, Galatea Creek and the Kananaskis River. According to Ben Gadd, the Canmore area in particular boasts North America’s largest wintering population of dippers.
Meet more critters of K-Country here!