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Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis Scientific name definitions

Stephanie Tyler and Christopher J. Sharpe
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated November 23, 2015

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Editor's Note: This is a shorter format account, originally published in HBW Alive. Please consider contributing your expertise to update and expand this account.

Identification

14·5–15 cm; unsexed 14·5–22 g, male mean 18·6 g, female mean 19·5 g. Small streaked pipit with rounded wings and slender bil1. Has pale eyering, brown or yellowish-brown ear-coverts, narrow blackish malar stripe ; above , earth-brown or greenish olive-brown, with broad brownish-black streaks on top of head, mantle, scapulars and back; wings darker, remiges with narrow greenish or olive edgings, tertials and upperwing-coverts blackish-brown with pale olive or whitish edgings (two wingbars); tail dark brown, central feather pair fringed greenish-olive, T5 with distal white wedge on inner web and white tip of outer web, outermost pair with whitish outer web and large white distal patch on inner web; whitish to greyish or yellowish-buff below (varies according to degree of plumage wear, palest when worn), throat side, breast and flanks broadly streaked blackish-brown; underwing-coverts and axillaries buffy white; iris blackish-brown; bill dark brown, pale brownish-flesh base of lower mandible; legs pale yellowish-brown to flesh-brown, hind claw long. Sexes alike. Juvenile  is more buff-brown above with more obvious streaking, more buff or off-white below, flanks virtually unstreaked. Race <em>whistleri</em> is more strongly marked than nominate, with heavier streaks on back, has deeper rufescent olive-brown upperparts.

Systematics History

Editor's Note: This article requires further editing work to merge existing content into the appropriate Subspecies sections. Please bear with us while this update takes place.

Proposed races enigmaticus (described from Tashkent), whistleri (N Scotland) and theresae (W Ireland) all synonymized with nominate. Monotypic.

Subspecies


SUBSPECIES

Anthus pratensis whistleri Scientific name definitions

Distribution
Iceland and Faroes to Scotland, Ireland and England

SUBSPECIES

Anthus pratensis pratensis Scientific name definitions

Distribution
SE Greenland to Europe and w Siberia; >N Africa, Iran

Distribution

SE Greenland, Iceland, and from N, NW & C Europe E to W Siberia, S to S France and C Romania; has bred Italy (Apennines); isolated population in Caucasus (border mountains of Georgia and Armenia). Winters S to N Africa, Middle East and SW Asia.

Habitat

Breeds in wide variety of open habitats, such as tundra, moorland and heathland, bogs, saltmarshes, dunes, coastal meadows, hillsides, forest clearings, fallow land, occasionally arable land; peatland a preferred habitat in N Europe; mosaic of heather (Calluna), bog and grassland probably the optimum habitat in British uplands. Similar habitats in winter, when also found along seashores . Breeds from sea-level to c. 3000 m, in S of range mainly 800–1600 m.

Movement

In W Europe mainly resident or partial migrant; many undertake local altitudinal movements, descending from hills to lowlands for winter. Populations from Greenland and Iceland migrate to W Europe. N & E populations are medium-distance migrants, although some make only short-distance hard-weather movements; majority migrate to W, C & S Europe, but some winter farther S, in coastal regions of N Africa and in Middle East (S mainly to NW Arabia), and a few reach desert oases and SW Mauritania; W Siberian breeders migrate mostly to SW Asia, from Iraq and Iran E to Uzbekistan. Autumn migration predominantly in Sept–Nov; departure from wintering areas late Feb, main passage N through Europe in Mar–Apr. Vagrants recorded N to Spitsbergen, W to Madeira and Azores, and E to E Kazakhstan, N Pakistan and Oman; also as far from normal range as Japan.

Diet and Foraging

Small invertebrates less than 5 mm long; also seeds. Wide range of invertebrates  recorded, including, among others, springtails (Collembola), mayflies (Ephemeroptera), dragonflies (Odonata), stoneflies (Plecoptera), grasshoppers (Orthoptera), earwigs (Dermaptera), bugs (Hemiptera), beetles (Coleoptera), alderflies (Neuroptera), scorpion flies (Mecoptera), larval and adult moths (Lepidoptera), flies (Diptera), ants (Hymenoptera), spiders (Araneae), ticks (Acarina), centipedes (Chilopoda), woodlice (Isopoda), amphipods, snails (Mollusca), and lumbricid and polychaete worms (Annelida). In Germany, Norway and Britain, flies and beetles were the dominant items in stomachs, with hymenopteran larva and ants also important in all studies; spiders and harvestmen (Opiliones), moth caterpillars  and bugs also significant. In England, adult dipterans formed 70% of food items, a further 19% being insect larvae. In another English study, first-brood chicks fed mainly with craneflies (Tipulidae) (85% by number), as well as mayflies (11%), other adult flies (3%) and their larvae (0·5%), and stoneflies (0·5%); for second broods, later in the season, the number of craneflies dropped to 41%, whereas mayflies increased to 30% and adult flies and moths formed, respectively, 11·5% and 7·4% of nestling diet. Various plant seeds also taken; seeds of grasses (Gramineae), sedges (Cyperaceae) rushes (Juncaceae), heaths (Ericaceae) and crowberries (Empetrum) important in autumn and winter. Will also take bread and suet crumbs on occasion. Forages on ground in short vegetation, usually less than 10 cm tall. Walks or runs; picks prey items from ground and vegetation; occasionally reaches up for a flying insect, but rarely pursues aerial insects in flight. Observed to wade in shallow water. Often in small to large flocks on passage and in non-breeding season.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Aerial song  a series of several segments, each comprising a number of uniform notes such as “tsip”, “tchip”, “tyie”, “zu”, “tu”, “tselp”, “tlip” and similar, starts quietly and becomes louder and faster, rising in pitch, usually ending with a flourish as “tee-swia-swia”; song from ground simpler, a repetition of “tsip” or “zi” notes. Call  a thin, high-pitched squeak, e.g. “psiip”, “pheet” or “isst”, often repeated 1–3 or more times; louder version when alarmed; also “chutt” or “chitt” as contact call, “sitt-it” when nervous.

Breeding

Season late Mar–Aug, later at high altitudes; double-brooded in C & W Europe (rarely in N), occasionally three broods. Monogamous; territorial. In song flight, male rises to c. 20 m, then descends with wings half-spread, tail slightly raised. Nest a neat cup of grass, lined with finer grass and hair  , concealed in vegetation on ground. Clutch 2–7 eggs, clutch size larger with increasing latitude, mean in W Germany 4·64, in Norway 5·42 in S and 5·75 in N (Finnmark); incubation 13 days, by female alone, occasionally assisted by male; chicks fed by both parents for c. 12·5 days, may leave nest before able to fly; post-fledging care by both parents, for c. 12–14 days.

Not globally threatened. Currently considered Near Threatened. Extremely large range of over 5 million km2 BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Anthus pratensis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/11/2015. . Generally common to locally very common, especially in N of range; uncommon in some areas. European population 4,250,000–7,200,000 breeding pairs, of which c. 90% in Norway, United Kingdom, Russia, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, Iceland and Finland. Since Europe forms 75–94% of the global range, world population estimated to be 20–40 million mature individuals BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Anthus pratensis. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 23/11/2015. . Densities highest in N, e.g. 80 pairs/km² in Lappland peatlands, compared with 5–20 pairs/km² in S; only 0·1 pair/10 ha on arable land. Population levels fluctuate according to severity of weather in winter quarters and on spring migration. European breeding population has declined overall by 25–30% over last three generations (11·4 years) (1). Monitored European population shows similar long-term and short-term trends (2) BirdLife International Globally Threatened Bird Forums . In 2015, these combined data led to listing as Near Threatened at the regional level in Europe (1). Since Europe accounts for >90% of global range, this regional decline is of global significance; it was therefore listed as Near Threatened for the first time in 2015. Some range expansions recorded in France, Finland and Czech Republic, but these offset by declines in the Low Countries, Denmark and C Europe; intensification of agriculture believed to be primary reason for the declines. Forest degradation caused by acid rain has created new breeding habitat in some areas.

Distribution of the Meadow Pipit
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  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Meadow Pipit

Recommended Citation

Tyler, S. and C. J. Sharpe (2020). Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.meapip1.01