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Rock Pipit

Anthus petrosus

Rock pipits are year-round residents at sites around much of the UKs coastline, and can be seen foraging on rocky shores for snails and crustaceans. Its mainly a ground-dwelling bird, with a distinctive bobbing run, as it forages for snails on stony seashores.

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit

Close up of a Rock Pipit on the coast

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit perched on a fence post

Rock Pipit

Rock Pipit, pictured from the back

Quick Facts


Scientific name:

Anthus petrosus

Other names:

European rock pipit, Eurasian rock pipit


Pipits and wagtails

Conservation status:






23cm to 28cm


20g to 30g

Appearance & Identification

What do Rock Pipits look like?

Thrush-like in appearance, the rock pipit is a stocky pipit with a long, bobbing tail. Its upper parts are a dark olive-brown to grey, while its underparts are a buffish-white colour, heavily marked with dark brown speckles.

Facial markings include heavy streaking across the crown, a pale, narrow eye ring and a lighter brown-buff stripe running across the face from near the base of the bill. Legs are dark pink, and feet have a distinctive longer hind claw.

Females and males are alike in colouring and markings, and cannot be told apart. Juvenile rock pipits are also similar to adults, but are browner and their plumage is more densely streaked.

Close up of a Rock Pipit

Close up of a Rock Pipit

How big are Rock Pipits?

Rock pipits are around the same size as a starling, with males and females within the same average size and weight range.

  • Length: 16.5 cm (6.5 in)
  • Wingspan: 23cm to 28cm (9.1 in to 11 in)
  • Weight: 20g to 30g (0.7 oz to 1.1 oz)
Rock Pipits are a similar size to a Starling

Rock Pipits are a similar size to a Starling

Calls & Sounds

What sound does a Rock Pipit make?

Rock pipits have a sharp, jangling song, consisting of a series of repeated musical notes. A loud, almost metallic-sounding “fiist” is used as a contact call, while the flight song consists of a rising pitch “wiist” note.


What do Rock Pipits eat?

Invertebrates form the bulk of a rock pipit’s diet, with snails, slugs, worms, crabs and crustaceans among the chief prey.

Most food is found by foraging on the ground, between stones and rocks on the seashore. Some seeds and vegetation may also be eaten, and occasionally flies are caught mid-air.

What do Rock Pipit chicks eat?

Baby rock pipits are initially fed softer prey, including worms and larvae by both parents, and parental feeding continues for several days after the young have fledged.

Rock Pipit with an insect in its beak

Rock Pipit with an insect in its beak

Habitat & Distribution

What is the habitat of a Rock Pipit?

Breeding habitats favoured by rock pipits are rocky sea coasts and islands with low vegetation.

On occasion, pairs may breed further away from the coast, for example on islands in large inland lakes in Sweden or along estuaries. In the non-breeding season, less rocky coastal areas may welcome an influx of visiting migrant rock pipits.

What is the range of a Rock Pipit?

The rock pipit’s breeding range extends from the coasts of Ireland and the British Isles in the west, around the coast of northern and north-western France northwards to the extreme northern coasts of Norway, Sweden and Finland and into Arctic Russia.

In winter, the northernmost populations migrate south, with rock pipits reaching north-west Africa and western Europe.

Where do Rock Pipits live?

Of the estimated global population of rock pipits of just over 400,000, Norway has by far the highest number of resident birds, with an estimated 300,000 individuals.

Rock Pipit in its natural rocky coastal habitat

Rock Pipit in its natural rocky coastal habitat

How rare are Rock Pipits?

Around 36,000 pairs of rock pipits breed in the UK each year, and their range is limited to coastal areas, so they cannot be classed as a common or particularly widespread bird. The global population of rock pipits is estimated at only around 408,000.

Where can you see Rock Pipits in the UK?

Rock pipits are present around the entire coastline of the British Isles and Ireland in winter, with the arrival of migrant birds from Norway.

During the breeding season, pairs are most prevalent in rocky uplands along the north-east, south-west and western coast of England, as well along the entire Welsh, Scottish and Irish coasts. Cornwall and western Scotland regularly record relatively high densities of rock pipits.

Breeding is not established at all along the less rocky coastlines of north-west, east and south England, although rock pipits may visit these regions during winter migration.

Rock Pipits are relatively common along the coastlines of the UK and Ireland, particularly in winter

Rock Pipits are relatively common along the coastlines of the UK and Ireland, particularly in winter

Lifespan & Predation

How long do Rock Pipits live?

The longest-lived rock pipit recorded was reported in 2018, having reached 9 years and 4 months. The average lifespan is considerably lower, between 1 and 5 years, with breeding occurring for the first time at one year.

What are the predators of Rock Pipits?

Birds of prey, in particular sparrowhawks, frequently predate rock pipits and their nests. Cuckoos also regularly target rock pipit nests to host their eggs.

Are Rock Pipits protected?

Like the vast majority of wild birds in Britain, rock pipits are offered protection by the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, which states that they cannot deliberately be killed, injured or captured.

Are Rock Pipits endangered?

Rock pipit numbers are considered to be relatively stable, with some minor contraction to their range. They are ranked as a species of least concern globally, and in the UK have Green status on the British Birds of Conservation Concern list.

Rock Pipit singing whilst perched on a fence

Rock Pipit singing whilst perched on a fence

Nesting & Breeding

Where do Rock Pipits nest?

Typical nest sites for rock pipits include on crevices in cliffs and tucked out of sight on grassy banks, thickets, or between rocks. A rough cup-shape nest is crafted by the female, using seaweed, grasses and leaves. A lining of animal fur and feathers is added before eggs are laid.

What do Rock Pipit eggs look like?

Rock pipits raise 1 to 2 broods per season, with each clutch containing 4 to 6 grey eggs, marked with brownish spots. Eggs measure 2.1 cm by 1.6 cm (0.8 in by 0.6 in).

Occasionally males take a turn at incubating, although the task is largely undertaken by the female while the male defends the nest site. Incubation lasts for around 14 to 15 days, after which both parents work to feed the young until they’re ready to fledge, at around 16 days.

Do Rock Pipits mate for life?

A seasonally monogamous species, rock pipit pairs may continue to loosely associate together on the same territory beyond the end of the breeding season, with the pair bond lasting in some cases for more than one year.

Nesting Rock Pipit gathering food to feed hungry chicks in the nest

Nesting Rock Pipit gathering food to feed hungry chicks in the nest


Are Rock Pipits aggressive?

Rock pipits are solitary, territorial birds while nesting, but may become more sociable during the non-breeding season when small groups may gather to forage together.

Males from neighbouring territories have been observed to join forces to drive off intruders, which is a particularly rare behaviour.

Rock Pipit foraging for food on the grass

Rock Pipit foraging for food on the grass


Do Rock Pipits migrate?

Rock pipits do migrate from the northernmost extremes of their range, although the UK’s breeding population are resident all year round.

Birds that breed in the furthest northern Arctic regions of Norway, Sweden and north-west Russia move southwards once local conditions on their breeding grounds begin to deteriorate and head to south and eastern England, southern France and across the Mediterranean into Morocco and other parts of north-west Africa.

Are Rock Pipits native to the UK?

Around 38,000 rock pipits breed in the UK each year, with populations concentrated around the coasts of south-western and western England, Wales and around the entire coast of Scotland and its offshore islands. These breeding rock pipits are largely sedentary, remaining in the same locality all year round.

In the UK, Rock Pipits are largely sedentary

In the UK, Rock Pipits are largely sedentary


Do Rock Pipits wag their tails?

Rock pipits are members of the same family as wagtails, and share the same tail-bobbing trait, with their tails constantly ‘wagging’ as they run or hop along the shoreline.

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Other birds in the Pipits and wagtails family

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