Country Corner

Country Corner January 5 - Dipper

Country Corner January 5 - Dipper

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No, you are not seeing things – this Dipper really does have opaque white eyes. Of course, it is simply a case of the camera catching it in mid-blink.

Country Corner reader Callum Herd sent me the picture after watching and photographing these remarkable river birds recently.

Callum says there were three of them and a lot of territorial arguments and courting behaviour was taking place. In fact, this might explain the white eyes.

Although all birds have these very noticeable eyelids, some species like Dippers are thought to incorporate blinking and flashing them into their courting and threat displays.

Certainly the eyelids are often seen when watching Dippers, probably because these birds think nothing of walking and swimming underwater and no doubt are glad of such windscreen wipers upon surfacing.

I remember having a class of students out for a guided walk and seeing their amazement as a Dipper walked into the water and disappeared! I think it is because the birds are built just like blackbirds and starlings, with no webbed feet or obvious adaptations to sub aqua hunting.

It comes as a great surprise the first time you see one go under.

As Dippers prefer clear running rivers, it is often possible to watch their hunting technique, which mainly consists of holding on tight to riverbed stones

to prevent themselves bobbing to the surface!

Dippers can also ‘fly’ underwater by using their wings as paddles. In fact, I could go on quoting you weird Dipper facts for at least a full page!

Any fast-flowing stretch of local river should offer you a Dipper sighting if you wait long enough. Just watch for the white blinking underwater walker with windscreen wipers!

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