Sprague's Pipit: Medium pipit with streaked, brown upperparts, buff breast with dark streaks, and white throat and belly. Tail is brown with white edges. Thin, pale bill. Legs are yellow to pale brown. Its plumage blends well among prairie grasses, making it difficult to spot.
Range and Habitat
Sprague's Pipit: This species breeds from central Alberta east to Manitoba and south from Montana to South Dakota. It may breed as far west as British Columbia. It spends winters along the southwestern and southern states from California to Florida and throughout much of Mexico. Its preferred habitats include short-grass fields.
Wagtails and Pipits (Motacillidae)
The PASSERIFORMES (pronounced pas-ser-i-FOR-meez) is large taxonomic order made up of one hundred eighteen families of birds, including the larks, woodswallows, and tanagers.
There are sixty-eight species of wagtails and pipits grouped into six genera in the Motacillidae (pronounced moh-tuh-SILL-uh-dee) family.
Eleven species of the Motacillidae in two genera have been recorded in North America. Included among these eleven species are the Yellow Wagtail, American Pipit, and Sprague’s Pipit.
Wagtails such as the White Wagtail are known for their habit of constantly wagging their long tails up and down.
The wagtails and pipits are small birds with fairly long, strong legs adapted to a terrestrial lifestyle. Members of this family are also for the most part slim birds with long tails (although tails of some pipit species are fairly short), fairly long, pointed wings, and longish, thin bills.
The pipits have brown and buff, streaked plumages with white in the outer tail feathers, while the wagtails are more colorful with yellow bellies and gray heads, or striking black and white plumage.
In North America, members of this family breed in Alaska, northern Canada, and the northern Great Plains (the Sprague’s Pipit). They are all non-forest species, many with an affinity for wetlands. The most numerous species is the American Pipit. A bird of the far northern tundra and alpine meadows in the summer, it also occurs along the coast and other open habitats in much of Canada and the United States during the winter. Aside from the Sprague’s Pipit, the other pipit species occur as Asian vagrants to the west coast. The wagtails also show up as vagrants from Asia, or breed in Alaska and winter in Asia.
All members of this family are long distance migrants to Asia, or the southern United States and Mexico.
Wagtails and pipits are fairly social birds, some species flocking together outside of the breeding season. They forage by walking and picking up arthropods off the ground.
The Sprague’s Pipit has been listed as a vulnerable species. Like many grassland birds, this formerly common species has suffered from destruction of its short grass habitat.
The Eastern Yellow Wagtail has the distinction of being named the bird most likely to carry the Avian Flu Virus (H5N1) from Asia to Alaska. This is because it winters in large concentrated numbers in southeast Asia where outbreaks of this virus most commonly occur. Its habit of frequenting of farmyards and its common association with domesticated animals further enhances its risk of contracting the disease.