American Pipits

American Pipits

East of the Rocky Mountains, American Pipit nests have been documented on only two isolated mountaintop areas in the US – Maine’s Mt. Katahdin and New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. Their extremely limited breeding distribution causes pipits to be state-listed as a “Special Concern” species in NH.

Funding from the Robert F. Schumann Foundation and the Blake-Nuttall Fund (and from The Waterman Fund in 2017) recently enabled NH Audubon to return to Mt. Washington to study pipits, a species that nests on the ground at a higher elevation than any other bird in New England. As we knew from work we conducted in the late 1990s, Mt. Washington’s summit weather can present considerable challenges when trying to conduct fieldwork above treeline.

We completed targeted surveys near the summit of Mt. Washington in June and July 2018. Due to weather challenges, our field team managed to get out on the mountain on only five days. There were few days without fog or strong winds when we could walk hiking trails and parts of the Auto Road to look and listen for pipits and to watch adult behavior for clues about nests.

Nevertheless, we tallied an estimated 26 adult pipits plus five juveniles, including 16 adults before July 11, and 10 adults interacting with five fledged young on/after July 11. We mapped 11 pipit display flight areas at elevations between 5,525 and 6,150 feet. All flights started at spots where the ground faced in an arc from the west-northwest to the northeast. Pipits were most active in areas north and northwest of the summit, and most conspicuous in the Cow Pasture, at the 6,000 ft parking area, near the Nelson Crag Trail crossing, and along the Cog Railway near the Great Gulf Headwall. In contrast, eastern, southern, and western sides of the summit appeared to be nearly devoid of pipits.

Project Leader: Chris Martin

Stalking the Wild American Pipit, New Hampshire Audubon Magazine, 1998.

American Pipit (Anthus rubescens) Surveys on Mount Washington, June 2018 through August 2020
Final Report to the Robert F. Schumann Foundation

Listen to Something Wild and learn about the alpine zone.

Photos, from the top: adult American Pipit in non-breeding plumage, staff image; American Pipit perched on a trail entrance sign, by Vanessa Johnson.