Known for their swirling courtship flight and trilled song, Tree Pipits are summer visitors to parts of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, arriving from wintering grounds in Africa each spring, and establishing breeding territories on the edges of woodlands, heaths and moorlands.
Close up of a Tree Pipit
Close up of a singing Tree Pipit
Tree Pipit on a tree stump
Family:Pipits and wagtails
25cm to 27cm
20g to 25g
Tree pipits are medium songbirds with thrush-like markings: they have dark olive-brown backs and wings, pale yellowish flanks and off-white underparts that are spotted with dark markings.
Facial markings include a lighter eyebrow stripe, a pale throat and dark brown cheek stripes, while the crown is streaky brown and buff.
Male and female tree pipits are alike in markings as well as in size, with behaviour being the only key to distinguishing between the sexes. Both males and females have a heavy grey-pink bill, and pinkish legs.
Juvenile tree pipits are similarly marked to adults, but are overall more brown than olive, and their wing feathers are edged with white, which gives their plumage a scaly appearance.
Close up of a Tree Pipit perched on a log
Male and female tree pipits are alike in size, with no obvious differences in length, wingspan or mass between the sexes. At first glance, tree pipits may look similar to song thrushes, but are considerably smaller, around the same size as a chaffinch.
Tree Pipit singing high up in a tree
Tree pipit song is a delightful series of flowing trills, heard from treetops, but also the ‘song flight’ is a sight and sound to behold, when the whistling trilled song accompanies a dynamic aerobatic display of swirling flight, in attempt to attract a mate ahead of the breeding season.
Primarily insectivorous, tree pipits eat mainly insects and invertebrates, although later in the year some fruit and seeds are also taken. Beetles, especially weevils, caterpillars, bugs, spiders, small flies, and earwigs are their chief prey.
Tree pipits forage on the ground through leaf litter for food, but can also occasionally be spotted probing tree trunks or branches in search of small insects.
Millet, pine and birch seeds, aspen buds, and berries are eaten, especially from autumn onwards.
Young tree pipits are fed by both parents while they are in the nest. Caterpillars and small, soft insects are the main sources of food. While adult tree pipits’ diet contains a large number of beetles, these do not feature in the early diet of their young.
Tree Pipit with an insect in its beak
Tree pipits’ preferred habitat is on the edges of forests, particularly birch or oak, close to moorland and open land with some isolated trees. Trees are needed as song perches, but dense tree cover is avoided. Foraging grounds of grasslands, heath, and bramble scrub are important.
Non-breeding habitats are similar to the landscapes in which tree pipits raise their young., including cultivated plantations, woodland clearances and open savannah.
The British Isles forms the western boundary of the breeding range of tree pipits, which extends across northern Europe and into eastern Russia and Siberia.
To the south, breeding occurs throughout central Europe, as far south as northern Spain, parts of Italy, and into Turkey and the Middle East.
The non-breeding range lies in sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal to Ethiopia, and as far south as Angola, Botswana, Namibia and northern South Africa. Some eastern breeding populations head to India.
There are no countries that enjoy a year-round presence of tree pipits. Around 4 million pairs breed in Sweden, with up to 10 million pairs raising their young in European Russia.
Tree Pipit in its natural forest habitat
Over 100,000 pairs of tree pipits arrive to breed in the UK each spring, but numbers have fallen steeply since 1980.
Sightings are not especially uncommon in the western regions of England in spring, when their lilting song can be heard while they plummet through the skies in an impressive parachuting display.
Tree pipits are no longer as widespread as they were around 50 years ago, and most breeding populations in the UK are concentrated in the western and northern upland regions of England, in North Wales and throughout Scotland, with the species rarely spotted in southern and central England.
Tree Pipit in flight, pictured from below
The oldest recorded tree pipit was 6 years and 7 months. Average lifespans for the species, however, are lower, with 2 years being typical. Breeding occurs for the first time at one year of age.
As ground nesters, tree pipits are vulnerable to a number of land predators, including foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, stoats and weasels. Tree pipit nests are also commonly chosen by cuckoos to host their eggs.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, offers protection to tree pipits against being intentionally killed, injured or taken into captivity. The Act also makes it illegal to knowingly disturb, damage or destroy a tree pipit’s nest site and eggs.
Classified with Red status on the UK Birds of Conservation Concern list, the future survival of tree pipits is at significant risk due to major contractions in breeding grounds due to habitat loss.
The availability of suitable nesting habitats has fallen by nearly 30 percent since the 1970s. Although overall across its range, the tree pipit is rated as a species of least concern, declines have also been recorded in Switzerland, the Netherlands and Finland.
Tree Pipit taking a drink of water
Tree pipits establish nesting sites in open woodland and scrubby ground, with a generously sized cup-shape nest formed in a dip in the ground. Females construct the nest alone, using dried grasses, leaves, and moss, and then line the cup with finer, softer grasses.
Tree pipits always nest on the ground, with their nest site usually concealed at the base of a grassy tussock or tucked beneath brambles or bracken.
Tree pipits’ eggs are pale brown with darker brown marbled markings, measuring 20 mm by 15 mm (7.9 in by 5.9 in).
The earliest eggs are laid in May each year, with one to two clutches in a season, each of between 4 and 8 eggs, being typical. Incubation is by females alone, with young hatching after 13 to 15 days.
Tree pipits are monogamous for the duration of the breeding season, pairing up once they arrive on their spring breeding grounds and raising two broods together.
The nest of a Tree Pipit with five unhatched eggs inside
During the non-breeding season, small flocks of tree pipits form to migrate and forage together. Tree pipits are generally not especially sociable, but any territorial aggression – for example, the elaborate parachuting song flight – is limited to the courtship and nesting seasons.
Spring and autumn migrations take place during the night as well as the day, but outside of these periods, tree pipits roost overnight in the branches of trees until first light, when their song can be heard in the dawn chorus.
Tree Pipit perched at the top of a tree
Tree pipits are a fully migratory species, and maintain distinct breeding and non-breeding territories. From September until April, non-breeding tree pipits live in sub-Saharan Africa (and also, to a lesser extent, in India).
April to May is spent in migration passage, with the arrival onto spring breeding territories across northern Europe from late April onwards.
Two broods are raised in their breeding territories between May and August, before their return autumn migration flights during August and September.
This colourful, regular, ground nesting summer visitor breeds throughout Europe, many overwintering across the vast plains of Africa.
Although they are not native to the British Isles, around 200 water pipits (Anthus spinoletta) spend winter in the UK each year. These marsh-loving birds arrive from October onwards from their breeding grounds in mountainous land in central and southern Europe, settling for up to six months on British wetlands.
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.
The Pied Wagtail is a small songbird with a befitting name. These busy birds are just as at home in our towns and cities as they are amongst wading birds along the shorelines of ponds and wetlands.
The meadow pipit is a small, long tailed passerine of the genus Anthus, which is made up of 42 separate species of pipit. Pipits and Wagtails share the same family with species found worldwide bar Antarctica. The meadow pipit is a bird favouring open countryside regions and is found throughout Europe and areas of southwestern Asia.
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