Apr 25 2019

Birding beginnings: Parachuting pipits

This weekend Warden Jamie and I were lucky enough to see the remarkable song flight of a tree pipit. We were amazed by how rehearsed its motions were, launching itself up from the tree before parachuting down towards the ground, then darting back up to the top of the tree – all while singing its diagnostic song.

Another streaky-brown bird…?

The tree pipit is a streaky-brown, sparrow-sized bird and I’m sure that I will confuse it with one of many similar birds. It hasn’t long arrived here after its migration from sub-Saharan Africa, and it will stay with us to breed until it departs by October. To complicate matters further, the tree pipit has an incredibly similar looking relative, the meadow pipit. However, there are some slight physical differences, but as always the most diagnostic feature is the song. The tree pipit begins its song from the top of a tree, with quick repetitive phrases, and towards the end of its descent will sing a characteristic ‘seeeu seeeu’. This descending phrase at the end of the song can be an immediate tell that it is a tree pipit. Meadow pipits do sing while flying a similar routine, but will take off from the ground instead of the top of a tree.

If a song cannot be heard, then identification can be more challenging. In this case the features to look out for are mainly focused towards the streaky brown parts on the front of the bird. The tree pipit will exhibit much thinner almost ‘pencil-like’ streaks towards its flank, whilst those on the meadow pipit remain a more consistent size. Additionally, the transition between streaky upperparts and pale underparts is far more abrupt on the tree pipit.

More ground nesters than you’d think!

Whilst not as well-known as the nightjar, woodlark and Dartford warbler, the tree pipit also chooses to nest on the ground. It builds its nest in open woodland and around scrub, one consisting mostly consisting of dry grass. So do please be aware of this wonderful species whilst enjoying your time on our amazing heathland!

Warden Nick


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