Dippers are fantastic little birds to spot and you don’t have to head out into the countryside to manage it either. These plump, plucky birds are a great example of ‘urban wildlife’ as they can often be seen along waterways in towns and cities. I’ve spotted a couple of them now on the Water of Leith in Edinburgh, bobbing up and down on rocks poking out of the river. Dippers have a distinctive white throat and breast which contrasts with the dark plumage of their bodies, and Scotland provides a home for around 15,000 pairs. Here are five facts we thought you’d enjoy about them.

Dippers can walk underwater

The dipper family is exceptional for its ability to hunt underwater. They feed on small aquatic invertebrates and fish, which they catch by walking along the bottom of fast flowing rivers and streams. By stretching out their wings against the current, dippers manage to push themselves downwards and stay submerged; they also hold on to stones with their feet to prevent them being swept off.

Their name makes perfect sense

Dippers were given their name because of their bobbing movements, up and down, while perched – and especially so when they’re excited. Dippers have been known to make up to around 60 of these ‘dips’ per minute. A local name for the species used to be ‘water ousel’ - ‘ousel’ being an old word for blackbird.

Specialisation is key

Dippers have a range of physical adaptations that make them well suited to life on the water. These include well-developed wing muscles that help push against the currents, eyes that function underwater, blood that stores large amounts of oxygen to draw from when they are submerged and specialised flaps over their nostrils to prevent water rushing in.

They’re birds of many talents

Despite lacking webbed feet, dippers can actually swim very well. To get from the bank of a stream or river into the water they will dive from a rock and bob to the surface, or simply walk straight in.

Dippers are big in Norway

Dippers are the national birds of Norway, so crowned in the year 2000. They are more commonly known as white-throated dippers there – the name helps distinguish this particular species of dipper from any other.

If you enjoyed this fact filled blog, have a look at some of our other ones:

Five facts you need to know about puffins

Five facts you need to know about ptarmigans

Five facts you need to know about bumblebees