We all know Yellowstone National Park is home to bears and wolves. While people seem to travel here from every corner of the planet for a chance to see some of the park's large mammals, one of the most impressive species here is a bird that fits in the palm of your hand.
The American Dipper, similar to the water ouzel found in Britain, can easily be seen during almost any season. The park includes nearly 1000 rivers and streams that make up approximately 2500 miles of running water. Many miles of those streams continue to run free in winter due to thermal runoff from the park's nearly 10,000 thermal features.
The habitat created is perfect for dippers. These slate gray birds have short tails and can be found along fast-moving sections of water. They are usually perched on rocks or logs, dipping and diving into the current. It is this dipping action that gives these little birds their name.
The American Dipper, which can be found throughout the American west, is considered North America's only true aquatic song bird. Their beautiful song can often be heard over the rush of running water. While males and females look alike, the male is usually a little larger.
Dippers feed entirely under water. They dip and dive into the current, so they can feed on aquatic insects along the bottom. They actually can walk on stream beds by gripping rocks along the base of the current.
Population levels vary from year to year and are believed to depend on the availability of good nesting sites. Nests are dome-like structures consisting of mosses and grass. They are built under rock ledges and overhangs, close to good feeding habitat.
In Yellowstone, the easiest places to see dippers are along the Firehole River, especially in the Firehole River Canyon, and along the Gardner River, just north of Mammoth Hot Springs. Watch for them flying just above the water surface as they look for their next feeding spot.
The American Dipper is at home in cold habitats. They have a large preen, or oil gland, that helps to keep their feathers waterproof. The next time you are in Yellowstone, or along any fast-moving western stream, take a few moments to enjoy one of nature’s coolest little birds.