My family celebrated the Fourth of July holiday in Utah. On the Fourth, we drove up American Fork Canyon in the Uinta National Forest. The snowpack in the mountains this year is amazing, and the snowmelt has created raging torrents of waters crashing down the rocky canyons. You might wonder what this has to do with birds. Well, I will tell you!
We spent some time hiking around an area called Tibble Fork Reservoir, and it was here that I had a delightful discovery. I found a lone juvenile American Dipper perched on a rock at the water’s edge of a swollen creek. The sound of the cascading water was almost deafening, and seeing this little bird within inches of the water made me wonder how it would successfully make the transition from fledgling to adult without being washed away to an untimely death.
In “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” author David Allen Sibley writes, “The American Dipper is found only along fast-flowing, rocky streams.” He continues by saying that the American Dipper is “the only songbird that regularly swims.”
Now, this is a fairly small songbird – it measures just 7.5 inches in length. (A white-crowned sparrow, by comparison, is 7 inches long.) Dippers only weigh about two ounces! Not only do they “swim,” but they actively forage for food underwater – in water that is bitterly cold from melting snow that is moving almost violently
down steep, rocky terrain.
After discovering this very plump fledgling, I found a place to sit about 20 feet away, and spent a considerable amount of time observing it. I had my 10×42 Swarovski binoculars, so I had unparalleled viewing enjoyment.
The fledgling was totally unconcerned about my presence, but I could tell the parents were definitely nervous. One would fly in with a beak-full of food, which he or she would very quickly shove down the throat of the begging baby, and quickly fly away. Both parents were actively searching for food, and were making trips back to the juvenile every two or three minutes.
The baby was literally being stuffed by its parents. I suppose at one point there were other siblings in the nest sharing in the bounty of the parents’ labors to provide for them, but now there was just one nestling receiving the full benefit of its parents’ frantic search for food.
The juvenile looked uncomfortable, as if it were suffering indigestion and couldn’t take another bite. Yet each time a parent arrived with a mouthful of food, it aggressively begged for food and received the full meal!
In between feedings, the baby would stretch, preen, and scratch itself, and it seemed quite content in spite of being all alone only inches from a raging mountain stream. I couldn’t help but wonder where it would spend the night, and where the nest was that it had so recently left.
Eventually I had to leave, but it was a really special experience to witness and share with my family. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of an American Dipper on the Jay’s Bird Barn website, as the site is focused on backyard wild birds. This is one species you will never see in your backyard here in Prescott!