Snorkeling songbird: Dippers swim Alaska rivers throughout winter

On the higher Chena River within the coronary heart of a chilly winter, a songbird appeared on a gravel bar subsequent to gurgling water that by some means remained unfrozen in 20-under-zero air. Then the fowl jumped in, disappeared underwater, and popped up a number of ft upstream.

The chook continued snorkeling towards the present of the stream, thus far north that in January direct daylight by no means touches it.

Quickly, two different darkish birds with our bodies the dimensions of tennis balls landed close to the opposite. They bobbed up and down after which all three jumped into the stream.

It appeared loopy conduct for a chilly winter day, however swimming is how American dippers make their dwelling, even right here in Alaska, the place they vary as far north because the Brooks Vary.

Mary Willson, a biologist, ecologist and marketing consultant from Juneau, is perhaps the one Alaska researcher who has studied the American dipper. She has pulled on her chest waders to comply with dippers on waterways close to Juneau’s street system, and she or he’s gotten to know a little bit of the character of what she calls “a really cool fowl.”

The dipper typically feeds whereas flying underwater, utilizing the liquid because it does one other fluid, air. The birds additionally snorkel, swimming on the floor with their heads under the water floor. They often decide up rocks on stream bottoms to seek out meals beneath.

Dippers rely upon clear, open water. In very chilly locations, the birds seem at openings in ice brought on by water upwelling, and dippers can dive via one gap within the ice and emerge from one other one. Close to Juneau, dippers typically seem at deltas the place streams move into the ocean.

Dippers eat aquatic and flying bugs and are expert sufficient to catch small fish, Willson stated. She has seen a dipper with 4 tiny fish in its beak directly. One other time, she witnessed a dipper catching a four-inch sculpin.

“It needed to beat that one on the rocks till it was in sufficient items to eat.”

Willson thinks the dippers can survive the transition from 32-diploma water to subzero air due to their feathers, that are denser than different songbirds’, and enormous oil glands close to the bottom of their tails.

They dip their beaks within the oil glands and wipe oil on their feathers, maybe to maintain themselves waterproof. Dippers even have flaps that cowl their nostrils whereas diving.

And, in response to the Birder’s Handbook by Paul Ehrlich, David Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye, “these birds are capable of forage on the underside of streams during which the present is just too quick and the water too deep for…

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