Dippers are members of the genus Cinclus in the bird family Cinclidae. They are named for their bobbing or dipping movements. They are unique among passerines for their ability to dive and swim underwater.
Dippers are small, stout, short-tailed, short-winged, strong-legged birds. Their short wings give them a distinctive whirring flight. They have a characteristic bobbing motion when perched beside the water, giving them their name.
Dippers inhabit the banks of fast-moving upland rivers with cold, clear waters, though, outside the breeding season, they may visit lake shores and sea coasts.
Their wings are relatively short but strongly muscled, enabling them to be used as flippers underwater. They have dense plumage with a large preen gland for waterproofing their feathers. Their eyes have well-developed focus muscles that can change the curvature of the lens to enhance underwater vision. They have nasal flaps to prevent water entering their nostrils. Their blood has a high haemoglobin concentration, allowing a greater capacity to store oxygen than terrestrial birds, and allowing them to remain underwater for up to at least 30 seconds.
Dippers’ calls are loud and high-pitched, being similar to calls made by other birds on fast rivers. Dippers also communicate visually by their characteristic dipping or bobbing movements, as well as by blinking rapidly to expose their pale upper eyelids as a series of white flashes in courtship and threat displays.
Dippers are completely dependent on fast-flowing rivers with clear water, accessible food and secure nest-sites.