American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)
Associated Species: Uses similar alpine habitats as Horned Larks, rosy-finches, and White-tailed
Distribution: Breeds above treeline in vegetated alpine habitats from California (Sierra and
Cascade Mountains), Arizona and New Mexico (Rocky Mountains) north into Canada and
Alaska, and east throughout arctic tundra habitats into Newfoundland and Greenland (Verbeek
and Hendricks 1994). In Colorado, American Pipits are fairly common breeders in all mountain
ranges having suitable alpine habitats. In migration they can be located in western valleys and
mountain parks and in eastern plains (Andrews and Righter 1992).
Habitat Requirements: In Colorado, American Pipit breeding habitat is characterized as alpine
meadows dominated by grass and sedge vegetation, or fell fields with lush vegetation or cushion
plants. Territories generally become snowfree early in the breeding season (June), are typically on
gentle slopes, and have suitable topographic features (tussocks, tilted rocks, eroded turf) for nest
sites (Braun 1980).
Ecology: Pipits arrive in alpine breeding habitats in late-April or early May, but may move down
slope during inclement spring weather. Nests initiated in mid-June and typically hatch in late-June
or July. Remain on summering areas above treelimit into September-October. Winters in
southern U.S. and Mexico, typically on barren shorelines, agricultural fields and shortgrass
habitats. Diet comprised of arthropods, primarily insects in summer (Verbeek 1970, Conry 1978),
and insects and vegetation in winter (Verbeek and Hendricks 1994).
Management Issues and Conservation Recommendations: Livestock grazing, mining,
recreation, water storage reservoirs, and road construction have impacted alpine tundra habitats in
Colorado in the past, and are current concerns. Management should emphasize light grazing by
both domestic and wild ungulates, total exclusion of off-road vehicles and snowmobiles except on
maintained roads, proper engineering of mine sites, and careful evaluation of proposed roads,
water storage reservoirs, ski developments, and other recreational or commercial facilities for
potential impacts on American Pipits (Braun 1980). Global warming could ultimately result in
forest expansion at higher elevations and a reduction of alpine tundra.
Reasons for Concern: This species occupies a unique habitat and is representative of other
species in this habitat type.
Biological Objective: Current programs do not adequately monitor this species in Colorado or
range-wide. The few intensive studies of this species suggests that breeding densities range from
0.2 to 2.1 pairs/km in suitable breeding habitat (Verbeek and Hendricks 1994). The objective
should be to maintain at least current breeding densities on all alpine areas currently having
populations of American Pipits, based on results from M2001 or other monitoring programs.
Habitat Objectives: The objective should be to maintain the current distribution and extent of
alpine tundra in Colorado, and to restore damaged habitats to a condition suitable for the native
avifauna, including American Pipits.
Selected References: Andrews and Righter 1992, Braun 1980, Conry 1978, Verbeek 1970,
Verbeek and Hendricks 1994.