Search Field Guide
Advanced Search
MT Gov Logo
Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

American Pipit - Anthus rubescens

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4B
(see State Rank Reason below)

Agency Status

External Links

Listen to an Audio Sample
Copyright by: The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, all rights reserved.
State Rank Reason (see State Rank above)
Species is apparently secure and not at risk of extirpation or facing significant threats in all or most of its range.
  • Details on Status Ranking and Review
    American Pipit (Anthus rubescens) Conservation Status Review
    Review Date = 09/15/2008
    View State Conservation Rank Criteria
    Population Size

    ScoreU - Unknown


    Range Extent

    ScoreF - 20,000-200,000 km squared (about 8,000-80,000 square miles)

    Comment140165 square kilometers based on Natural Heritage Program range maps

    Area of Occupancy

    ScoreG - 2,000-20,000 km squared (500,000-5,000,000 acres)

    Comment4563 square kilometers based on GAP predicted model.

    Long-term Trend

    ScoreE - Relatively Stable (±25% change)

    CommentNo major changes to covertypes in alpine areas.

    Short-term Trend

    ScoreE - Stable. Population, range, area occupied, and/or number or condition of occurrences unchanged or remaining within ±10% fluctuation

    CommentStill occupies the same alpine areas in roughly the same densities in 2008 as in the 1970s and 1980s


    ScoreF - Widespread, low-severity threat. Threat is of low severity but affects (or would affect) most or a significant portion of the population or area.

    CommentClimate change results in tree encroachment into alpine meadow areas species is dependent on. Sheep grazing results in localized impacts to nesting areas.

    SeverityLow - Low but nontrivial reduction of species population or reversible degradation or reduction of habitat in area affected, with recovery expected in 10-50 years.

    CommentEncroachment of conifers unlikely to be seen in 15-20 years, but reduction in snowpack will alter other vegetation species dependent on more immediately.

    ScopeModerate - 20-60% of total population or area affected

    CommentOccupied areas within range won't all be impacted, but many will and not necessarily at the same time.

    ImmediacyLow - Threat is likely to be operational within 5-20 years.

    CommentOngoing, but not having a severe impact yet.

    Intrinsic Vulnerability

    ScoreC - Not Intrinsically Vulnerable. Species matures quickly, reproduces frequently, and/or has high fecundity such that populations recover quickly (< 5 years or 2 generations) from decreases in abundance; or species has high dispersal capability such that extirpated populations soon become reestablished through natural recolonization (unaided by humans).

    Environmental Specificity

    ScoreB - Narrow. Specialist. Specific habitat(s) or other abiotic and/or biotic factors (see above) are used or required by the Element, but these key requirements are common and within the generalized range of the species within the area of interest.

    CommentAlpine tundra and high elevation subalpine meadows.

General Description
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.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions

All Ranges
(Click legend blocks to view individual ranges)

Western Hemisphere Range

eBird Occurrence Map

Click the map for more info.
Courtesy of eBird and Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 3969

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density


SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding

Indirect Evidence of Breeding

No Evidence of Breeding

WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Regularly Observed

Not Regularly Observed


(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

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).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
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).

Reproductive Characteristics
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).

Login Logout
Citation for data on this website:
American Pipit — Anthus rubescens.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from