Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
American Pipit - Anthus rubescens
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General Comments The American Pipit, named the Water Pipit until a few decades ago, nests in the coldest and most barren parts of North America -- Alaska, far northern Canada into the Maritimes, and in alpine tundra areas of the Rockies and Sierras. It migrates from coast to coast to winter in the southern third of the country. In North Carolina, it migrates across the state, but in winter it occurs over the Coastal Plain and much of the Piedmont. Only the Horned Lark, among songbirds, occurs in as barren habitats as does the pipit; plowed fields are favored by pipits, but they also occur on fresh to slightly brackish mudflats, extensive lawns (and sod farms), and a few other very short grass habitats. They almost always occur in flocks in the state, at times numbering over 100 birds; they are usually first noted by their calls while in the air overhead.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S4N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident. Along the coast (at least the immediate mainland), mostly fairly common, though can be uncommon on barrier islands; common (at least numerically, but in flocks) in the Tidewater zone and in much of the inland areas, though mainly fairly common toward the Piedmont. Can be very common at times in migration. Mainly mid-Oct to early or mid-Apr; one at Oregon Inlet (Dare) on 7-9 Jun 2013 was exceptionally late. Peak counts: 550, North Topsail Island (Onslow), 25 Jan 2000. A report in The Chat of 2,700 in a dusk flight along the Outer Banks on 25 Aug 1965 is obviously incorrect, or else a typographical error. The species does not arrive in the state until about late Sep, and thousands would not be seen in Aug, at any rate.
Piedmont Winter resident and transient. Fairly common to common across most of the region, in spring and fall migration. Less numerous in winter; fairly common in the eastern and southern portions; generally uncommon elsewhere, being less numerous toward the mountains. Mainly mid-Oct to mid-Apr, and not unusual into early May. One at Jordan Lake (Chatham) on 17 Aug 2017 was a very early date. Peak counts: 1,000, Union, 18 Mar 2017.
Mountains Transient, and very sparse winter visitor/resident. Generally uncommon (to occasionally fairly common) across the region as a migrant in spring and fall, occurring as high as mountain balds at high elevations. In winter, rare to very uncommon in early winter at lower elevations, but very rare to rare nearly everywhere by midwinter; few survive the winter. Mainly mid-Oct into Nov, and again Mar to late Apr. Peak counts: 400, Henderson, 14 Mar 2001.
Finding Tips You should be able to find pipits in large plowed fields in the Coastal Plain in winter, more likely toward Lake Mattamuskeet and Lake Phelps.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-28], LeGrand[2018-02-21], LeGrand[2017-12-08]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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