GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

Observing the American dipper

(Part II of Billy Hofer’s article, continued from yesterday)

[The American dipper’s] plumage is dense and compact, and is moreover well protected by a coat of oil, which he often renews from the large oil sack with which he is provided. So the dipper never gets wet, and we may conclude never takes cold, although he passes the winter about the open places of mountain torrents as far north as Alaska. His food, which he secures from the bottom of the stream, consists mainly of aquatic insects, and although his first cousin who inhabits Northern Europe has been accused of feeding on the spawn of trout and salmon, there is not a particle of evidence to sustain the grave charge.

The dipper dives into the water and gets to the bottom as soon as possible, and by means of rapid wing beats and holding on to the stones and gravel with his feet resists the constant tendency to shoot up through the water to the air above. He vigorously turns over the stones and sticks, and secures the water insects and aquatic larvae which are found in such situations, and then when he requires breath comes to the surface again. He presents a queer appearance when at the bottom, where he seems to be tumbling about in the most curious and erratic way, now for a moment stationary, and again being swept away by the force of the stream. No doubt he makes a good living, for he always seems busy, contented and cheerful.

The dipper seems to be satisfied with his own company for the greater part of the year, but during the breeding season he perforce seeks a mate, and these two build their nest close to the water’s edge, under a bank or the roots of a tree, and often amid the spray of some brawling cascade. The structure is as curious in its way as its architects. It is lined with twigs or fine, dry grass, and completely covered on the outside by an arched roof of fine green moss, which is kept fresh and living by the moisture of its surroundings, or sometimes perhaps by the birds themselves, who, it is said, after emerging from the water, fly to the roof of the nest and, alighting there, vigorously shake the drops from their feathers over the mossy covering.

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I am quoting this from Hofer’s “Through Two-Ocean Pass,” Part XII, April 9, pages 202–3, Forest and Stream magazine, in fifteen parts, January 29 through April 30, 1885.

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