Birds of the Stream


Birds of the Stream

Over the last week I have been watching the antics of a family of Dippers in Cregg Stream where they have made their home in recent years.

Thursday, 25 April 2013
10:00 AM GMT

Over the last week I have been watching the antics of a family of Dippers in Cregg Stream where they have made their home in recent years. One particular bird sits on the same stone for hours at a time, his little head bobbing up and down all the time, quiet unperturbed by having his photo taken a few times a day.

Their name, Dipper refers to the bobbing motion which they make while standing in the water, the motion is often followed by a rapid, whirring flight. As their natural habitat is a rough, tumbling stream it is difficult to hear their song, but it has a beautiful warbling theme, not unlike that of a Thrush, and a Dipper can best be described as a Thrush with the shape of a Wren.

Although small, they are strong, sturdy birds, with that little head bent, they can actually walk through the strongest torrent in search of food. While battling through the stream, with their wings swept back, they almost take on the shape of a small fish.

Although their appearance is black, when seen up close it is tinged with brown, and they have a distinctive white breast, something like a waistcoat and a narrow chestnut waistband. Dippers feed on little water crustaceans and the caddis larvae of dragonflies and mayflies found in the fine gravel of fast-flowing streams and they often build their nests under a bridge or in the branches of a fallen tree.

The nest is built by both the male and female, and it is a domed structure with the entrance near the base and made of dried leaves and grass, they usually have two broods, the first in April, and the eggs are pale-white. The young birds are usually capable of flying after 21 days and like their parents, they too will establish their own territory, very rarely straying from it. So well established is their territory that a Dipper will turn back if they cross that line that is invisible to us, they also seem to have their own favourite perches, such as the brownstone rock in Cregg Stream on which they spend many hours.

For many years there was a belief that Dippers could actually fly under water and according to the book Fauna Britannica they have actually been captured on film doing this. In England, Dippers were once thought to be female Kingfishers and that great biographer of Irish natural history, Gerald of Wales described the birds as being martinets, they are also known as Water Ouzels and in Irish their name is Gabha Dubh, the Gabha refers to their black bib being like that which was once worn by blacksmiths.

During their courting display, the male bird has the most peculiar habit of repeatedly bringing his white eye-lid over his eye, almost as though he were winking. Dippers are fascinating birds to watch and in the haven that is Cregg Stream, with its over-hanging branches of Hazel and Alder, they are really at home and so am I. The latest issue of the magazine of Birdwatch Ireland, Wings, has a very interesting and informative article on the Irish Jay by Jim Fox and Brian Caffrey.

The Bird Atlas compiled between 2007 and 2011 confirms a relative abundance of Jays in Ireland and that good numbers are present in Counties Cork and Kerry. My thanks to the caller who contacted me about a recent poem in A Walk on the Wildside, there is some doubt about the author, but I will keep looking.


Photo; the Dipper at Cregg Stream keeps a careful eye on the photographer. Photo Jim.

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