American Dippers in the Big Santa Anita Canyon – Something to Watch for on Your Next Southern California Waterfall Hike

Posted on February 8, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

As you wander along the banks of the Big Santa Anita or perhaps its’ tributary canyon the Winter Creek, watch for the water-loving dippers.  Known as American Dippers or Water Ouzels (Cinclus mexicanus), these small birds hop from rock to rock and true to their name, dip their heads and bodies down into the rushing stream in search of food.  The Dipper does this squatting dance, bobbing its’ body up and down, up and down, before flying off low over the water.  If you’re lucky enough to watch one swim, you’ll notice how similar these enchanting creatures are to ducks.  Sometimes they’ll thrust their head down into the current, other times they’ll dive down completely vanishing into pools and small rapids.

American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus)
Dippers have an extra eyelid to help with seeing underwater, much like having built-in goggles!  Their food, at least in the Big Santa Anita creek, consists of dragonfly nymphs and caddisfly larvae.  To help stay warm, these birds secrete oil, helping to keep their feathers and skin glossy and water repellant.

Listen for their song as you hike along.  It sounds like a high pitched whistling or trill, repeated over and over.   Photos and drawn diagram courtesy of Bing Images.