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Meadow Pipit

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The member of the pipit family most likely to be found in open country.


Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Meadow Pipit: naming rights

Post date: Wednesday, 16 March, 2016 - 00:00

I normally advise new bird watchers to take no notice of a birds common name when trying to identify a new species. For example, you never find garden warblers in gardens and willow warblers can be seen in trees other than Willows. For pipits, however, with other factors taken in to account, it works. There are eight pipits seen in Dorset and of these, four are very uncommon you are unlikely to see Richard's, tawny, olive-backed or red-throated - leave those to the experts! That leaves four to choose from.  

The water pipit is an occasional winter visitor to watercress beds on Dorset's rivers so if you see a pipit away from this habitat it almost certainly won't be a water pipit although they also turn up around reed beds, especially Lodmoor and Christchurch harbour. Tree pipits are found on our heaths, usually perched in the occasional birch or pine trees that occur there. They are also summer visitors and easy to match up when you find one thanks to the heath/tree connection. The rock pipit is a Dorset resident all along our rocky sea cliffs and ONLY on our rocky sea cliffs, hence rock pipit.
This leaves the meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis) for everywhere else! Heath, downland, rough pasture, even farmland are its preferred habitats with a marked drift towards coastal regions in autumn and winter. It is also our most common pipit sometimes appearing in quite large flocks. The one in my hpotograpph is a little one (probably not quite an adult because it is still very light underneath) is not by a watercress bed, not in a tree on heathland, and not on rocks, it is on coastal downland and so its a meadow pipit!


Meadow Pipit in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

Post date: Tuesday, 19 February, 2019 - 18:22

Whilst the meadow pipit is a fairly common breeding species in Britain it tends to favour high moors and open downland and so during the spring and summer it is more likely to be encountered in the north and west rather than here in Dorset. In Dorset we have little of the type of habitat they prefer for nesting and so the meadow pipit is primarily seen as a passage migrant species here. Indeed, large flocks can sometime be seen during autumn migration especially.

The weekly reports chart reflects this general view of the meadow pipit as a species passing through on migration. The spring incoming birds can start to arrive quite early in February and the reports then show regular arrivals through until week 16 at the end of April.  The restricted breeding in Dorset is shown by the very few reports during the May to July period with the autumn exodus starting in August and reaching a peak from weeks 37 to 42 through September and early October. There are also occasional reports in mid winter that would suggest that a small number actually stay here rather than go further south unless forced to do so by severe weather.

Reports come from mainly coastal situations and are from sixty or so different locations but many of these have just a single record so far since the database started in January 2017. Ten sites have produced the bulk of the records and, interestingly, these sites tend to be in the west of the county from Portland, along the Fleet and on further west past Bridport and towards Lyme Regis. This is possibly because the high coastal downland in this part of the county is closest to their preferred nesting habitat.

Finding meadow pipits is not difficult; head to any high point along the western coast of Dorset in September and you will have a good chance of seeing them.


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Meadow Pipit
Scientific Name Anthus pratensis
Status Occasional
Interest Level
Species Family Pipits and Wagtails
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
Preferred Environment
  • Downland and scrub
Look for A small 'thrush-like' bird with speckled breast
Additional Identification Notes
  • A declining nesting species in Dorset but seen in greater numbers during migration times
  • Although the 'meadow' pipit it is rarely found in meadows, usually on downs and moors, occasionally heaths
  • Our most common species of pipit but not that common these days 
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