WATER PIPIT (Anthus spinoletta)

Pipit spioncelle

 

In Switzerland the Water Pipit is found throughout the alps and in the Jura, it can be found above 1400m but is most common around 2000m. Like the very similar Meadow Pipit it is a bird of high altitude grasslands and rocky scrub. This means it is generally found at higher altitudes than Meadow Pipit but they can occur alongside each other in the Jura and the pre-alps where confusion between the two is easy. Meadow Pipits are not found in the high alps. At one time the Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) was considered the same species but has now been separated.

The basic song can be delivered from a  perch or in flight. The perched song is a repeated "chirrup" delivered in phrases of different length, it has a sort of rattling quality to it unlike the clearer notes of the Meadow Pipit :

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The rattling quality of the sound comes from the series of elements that make up each note, there are 3 that are delivered in about 0.2s :

Whilst these three elements clearly show as three separate sounds (see the diagram on the right) human ears cannot distinguish things at that speed but instead we can detect a sort of rattling that shows it is not just one note. Compare this with the Meadow Pipit where there are two elements to each note which our ears perceive as one. So this small rattle is one way to separate the two species when singing.

Like the Meadow Pipit the Water Pipit also has a parachute song which I think tends to have more variation in the notes:

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The main body of the parachute song seems to the the same notes delivered when perched:

But as you can hear these notes change a lot as the delivery goes on:

Frequently the bird will start with a few perched deliveries before springing up into flight, singing before it reaches the top and then parachuting down, often circling and often returning to the same point of departure. Here is one giving two perched deliveries followed by a song flight:

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HOW CAN I TELL A WATER PIPIT FROM A MEADOW PIPIT ?

A key point is the the "cleaner" sounds of the Meadow Pipit . You would be forgiven for thinking the perched Water Pipit song could be a very loud grasshopper or cricket chirruping away. Here is the perched song of it compared with a Meadow Pipit . Water Pipit comes first in the three pairs in this sequence:

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and as a sonogram:

You can hear and see that the stridulating lower tone of the Water Pipit is indeed quite different from the higher pitched, clearer and brighter note of the Meadow Pipit .

Finally to help separate the two here are the parachute/ flight songs compared, Water Pipit first followed by Meadow Pipit and repeated twice:

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The grasshopper-type of stridulations and slower delivery of the Water Pipit can be told from the more metallic, brighter and faster "tink tink tink" of the Meadow Pipit .Hard to remember this when out in the field though I admit !

I hope this helps to distinguish these two rather confusing species.

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