Meadow pipit

The meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis) is a small passerine bird which breeds in much of the Palearctic, from southeastern Greenland and Iceland east to just east of the Ural Mountains in Russia, and south to central France and Romania; there is also an isolated population in the Caucasus Mountains. It is migratory over most of its range, wintering in southern Europe, North Africa and south-western Asia, but is resident year-round in western Europe. However, even here, many birds move to the coast or lowlands in winter.[2][3]

Meadow pipit
Wiesenpieper Meadow pipit.jpg
Bird recorded in Surrey, England
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Motacillidae
Genus: Anthus
A. pratensis
Binomial name
Anthus pratensis
AnthusPratensisIUCNver2019 1.png
Range of A. pratensis

Alauda pratensis Linnaeus, 1758


The meadow pipit was formally described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae under the binomial name Alauda pratensis.[4] The type locality is Sweden.[5] The meadow pipit is now the type species of the genus Anthus that was introduced in 1805 by the German naturalist Johann Matthäus Bechstein.[6][7][8] The species is monotypic: no subspecies are recognised.[7]

The genus name Anthus is the Latin name for a small bird of grasslands mentioned by Pliny the Elder, and the specific pratensis means "of a meadow ", from pratum, "meadow".[9] The name "pipit", first documented by Thomas Pennant in 1768, is onomatopoeic, from the call note of this species.[10] Old folk names, no longer used, include "chit lark", "peet lark", "tit lark" and "titling"; these refer to its small size and superficial similarity to a lark.[10]


A meadow pipit perched on a fishing net

This is a widespread and often abundant small pipit, 14.5–15 cm long and 15–22 g weight. It is an undistinguished looking species on the ground, mainly brown above and buff below, with darker streaking on most of its plumage; the tail is brown, with narrow white side edges. It has a thin bill and pale pinkish-yellow legs; the hind claw is notably long, longer than the rest of the hind toe. The call is a weak tsi-tsi. The simple repetitive song is given in a short song flight.[2][3] Birds breeding in Ireland and western Scotland are slightly darker coloured than those in other areas, and are often distinguished as the subspecies Anthus pratensis whistleri, though it intergrades clinally with nominate Anthus pratensis pratensis found in the rest of the species' range.[2][3]

It is similar to the red-throated pipit Anthus cervinus, which is more heavily streaked and (in summer only) has an orange-red throat, and to the tree pipit Anthus trivialis, which is slightly larger, less heavily streaked, and has stronger facial markings and a shorter hind claw. The song of the meadow pipit accelerates towards the end while that of the tree pipit slows down.[2][3]

Distribution and habitatEdit

Nest with eggs

It is primarily a species of open habitats, either uncultivated or low-intensity agriculture, such as pasture, bogs, and moorland, but also occurs in low numbers in arable croplands. In winter, it also uses saltmarshes and sometimes open woodlands. It is a fairly terrestrial pipit, always feeding on the ground, but will use elevated perches such as shrubs, fence lines or electricity wires as vantage points to watch for predators.[2][3][11]

The estimated total population is 12 million pairs. It is an abundant species in the north of its range, and generally the commonest breeding bird in most of upland Britain, but less common further south. Breeding densities range from 80 pairs per square kilometre in northern Scandinavia, to 5–20 pairs per square kilometre in grassland in the south of the breeding range, and just one pair per square kilometre in arable farmland.[3][11] There are a small number of isolated breeding records from south of the main range, in the mountains of Spain, Italy, and the northern Balkans.[2]

There has been a general decline in the population over the past 17 years, most notable in French farmland, with a 68% drop.[12]



Eggs, Collection Museum Wiesbaden
Cuculus canorus canorus in a clutch of Anthus pratensis - MHNT

The nest is on the ground hidden in dense vegetation, with 2–7 (most often 3–5) eggs; the eggs hatch after 11–15 days, with the chicks fledging 10–14 days after hatching. Two broods are commonly raised each year. This species is one of the most important nest hosts of the cuckoo, and it is also an important prey species for merlins and hen harriers.[2][3]

Food and feedingEdit

Its food is primarily insects and other invertebrates, mostly small items less than 5 mm long. It also eats the seeds of grasses, sedges, rushes and heather, and crowberry berries, mainly in winter.[2][3]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2015). "Anthus pratensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2015. Retrieved 24 January 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Snow, D. W.; Perrins, C. M. (1998). The Birds of the Western Palearctic (Concise ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854099-X.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Hoyo, J. del; et al., eds. (2004). Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 9. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. pp. 763. ISBN 84-87334-69-5.
  4. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Volume 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 166. |volume= has extra text (help)
  5. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Greenway, James C. Jr, eds. (1960). Check-List of Birds of the World. Volume 9. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 159. |volume= has extra text (help)
  6. ^ Bechstein, Johann Matthäus (1805). Gemeinnützige Naturgeschichte Deutschlands nach allen drey Reichen (in German) (2nd ed.). Leipzig: Bey Siegfried Lebrecht Crusiu. pp. 247, 302 Note.
  7. ^ a b Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (January 2021). "Waxbills, parrotfinches, munias, whydahs, Olive Warbler, accentors, pipits". IOC World Bird List Version 11.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  8. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Greenway, James C. Jr, eds. (1960). Check-List of Birds of the World. Volume 9. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 144. |volume= has extra text (help)
  9. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London, United Kingdom: Christopher Helm. pp. 49, 315. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  10. ^ a b Lockwood, W. B. (1984). The Oxford Book of British Bird Names. Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-214155-4.
  11. ^ a b Hagemeijer, W. J. M., & Blair, M. J., eds. (1997). The EBCC Atlas of European Breeding Birds. Poyser, London ISBN 0-85661-091-7.
  12. ^ Gorman, James (2018-04-11). "Farmland Birds in France Are in Steep Decline". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-04-12.

External linksEdit