Small, 15 to 17 cm, slender. Males slightly larger and heavier than females. Not seperated by plumage. Bill short, slender, straight. Bobbing tail with white edge to outer tail feathers. Compare with Sprague's Pipit (the sides of the head and indistinct buffy eye-rings are pale. The lores contrast with dark brown eyes and the ear coverts are plain brownish-buff, usually with a slight reddish tinge. The crown, sides and rear of neck are buffy with sharply defined black streaks. The back is light sandy-brown with broad black streaks, with a paler more prominent buffy stripe down each side. The wings, 7.7 to 8.5 cm long, have blackish-brown feathers with whitish to buffy-brown edging, and two whitish wing bars. The rump and upper tail coverts, paler than the back, are sandy-brown with narrow black streaks (Robbins and Dale 1999). However, Sprague's Pipit has a shorter tail with more white in outer rectrices, more strongly marked upperparts, and paler face without the dark auricular patch of the American Pipit (Verbeek and Hendricks 1994).
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
Western Hemisphere Range
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In the Bozeman area, normal migration periods are April 20 to May 20 and September 5 to October 22, with a peak around October 1 (Skaar 1969).
In the Beartooth Mountains, nest sites required snow-free areas, tussocks, tilted rocks and eroded areas nearby (Verbeek 1965). Ground inhabiting songbird of generally sparsely vegetated, open habitat (Verbeek and Hendricks 1994).
American Pipits eat almost entirely arthropods. On the Beartooth Plateau the major groups found in nestling diets, in order of abundance, were Diptera, Hemiptera, Lepidoptera, Homoptera, Hymenoptera, Coleoptera, and Diplopoda (Hendricks 1987).
Mean territory was measured at 1810 square meters. Deer mouse and Long-tailed Weasel were the main predators in the Beartooth Mountains (Verbeek 1970).
Statewide, nesting is from early June to mid-August (Davis 1961, Verbeek 1970, Hendricks 1993). In the Beartooth Mountains eggs were laid mid-June to mid-July, the average clutch was 4.6, survival to fledging was 2 per nest, the incubation period was 14 days, the nestling period was 14 days and independence was at 28 days (Verbeek 1965).