How to Recognize a Water Ouzel

How to Recognize a Water Ouzel
The water ouzel is the only songbird in North America that obtains all its food from the water. More commonly called the American dipper, the water ouzel is identified by its features, behavior, call and habitat. Hikers and backpackers that traverse the West armed with a reliable field guide to birds have a chance to encounter a water ouzel and recognize it as such.


Difficulty: Challenging

Things You’ll Need:
  • Field guide to western bird species
Step 1
Search in the western states from Alaska south to Central America for a water ouzel. The bird lives along the West Coast, throughout the Rocky Mountains, the Sierras, Cascades and in the high country of Mexico. There are no water ouzels in the eastern two-thirds of the continent.
Step 2
Look in swift-flowing streams for the American dipper. The water ouzel prefers to live next to clear streams in the mountains. It will also inhabit the areas around ponds and lakes. Sometimes the bird will show up along the Pacific coast.
Step 3
Watch for a smallish but stout bird that resembles a wren. Look for a dark grayish bird with a short tail. The legs and the bill are dark. Males look like the females but are just a little larger.
Step 4
Keep a close eye when near streams in the water ouzel's range for the bird foraging about in the water. Look for a bird that jumps headfirst into the stream and uses its wings to move through the water. Watch for a bird that walks along the bottom of the stream totally under water as it looks for aquatic bugs and tiny fish to feast upon.
Step 5
Explore around rocky ledges next to water, riverbanks, close by to bridges and in other spots near water for the water ouzel's nest. Search for a nest made of moss that resembles a globe in shape.
Step 6
Recognize the water ouzel from its habit of always bobbing up and down. It also has eyelids that are white, which the bird reveals every time the ouzel blinks.

Keep Me Informed

Weekly newsletters, announcements and offers from to your inbox.

Sign me up!

We HATE spam and promise to keep your email addresses safe and secure.