Autumn Pipits

Every autumn many pipits migrate south passing the Netherlands. These birds can be difficult to identify even for experienced birders. We made a shortlist of features to look out for and included the flight call, which is often more helpful.

Meadow Pipit (photo by Rene van Rossum /

This is the most common of all. Found in grass fields and sometimes sits on low bushes or fences for a short time.

  • Heavily striped upper and under parts;
  • Slightly visible eyebrow;
  • Small and narrow bill;
  • Long nail on the hind toe;
  • Dark superciliary stripe.

Red-throated Pipit (photo Stefan Johanson)

Scarce migrant seen in September-October. Mostly heard on migration with distinct call. Prefers same habitat as Meadow Pipit and often joins flocks of Meadow Pipits.

  • Bright line(s) on the back, often called a tram rails also on Pechora Pipit. Meadow Pipit can have a slight brighter line on the back;
  • Streaked rump;
  • Streaked cap;
  • Obvious malar stripe into a dark patch on the side of the neck;
  • Dark tertial center with bright rims end points towards the rump.

Pechora Pipit (Photo Chris Turner)

Vagrant to NW Europe, at the moment no record in the Netherlands. This species creeps in long grass, and is reluctant to fly even when disturbed. Its call is a distinctive electrical zip. Although the call is generally helpful when identifying pipits, this species calls far less than most. This, combined with its skulking habits, makes this a difficult species to find.

  • Only pipit with primary projection;
  • Distinct white line on both side of the mantle;
  • Lacks a dark malar stripes;
  • Dark "triangular" neck patch, same as Red-throated Pipit;
  • Bright wing bars.

Tree Pipit (photo Francisco Garcia)

Breeding bird and present from April-October. Favors edges of " younger" woodlands, mainly pines and birches.

  • Heavy streaked breast and more detailed on the flanks;
  • Obvious eyebrow and malar stripe;
  • Contrasting coverts, like Tawny Pipit;
  • Strong bill, strongest of all "smaller pipits";
  • Cream breast with bright belly.

Olive-backed Pipit (photo Johnny van der Zwaag /

Vagrant, prefers same habitat as Tree Pipit but more often been found near pines.

  • Olive colored mantle with minor striping;
  • Two tones eyebrow, white in fron of the eye and cream behind;
  • Green tertial edges, brown on Tree Pipit;
  • Streaked white breast and flanks, on with Tree Pipit;
  • Distinct white and contrasting dark patch underneath near the ear.

Tawny Pipit (photo Dirk Eijkemans)

Scarce migrant from August to October. Prefers dry and arid grassland.

  • Dark superciiiary;
  • Contrasting "middle" wing coverts, dark center with white edges;
  • Juveniles have scaly upperparts but have often molted these already;
  • Overall sand-coloured impression;
  • Hardly any streakings on the under parts.

Richard's Pipit (photo Arie Ouwerkerk)

Scarce migrant from September to November, some wintering birds. Prefers grasslands where it can be hard to locate. Calls frequent when flushed and hovers before it lands.

  • Largest of all pipits with long tail and neck, gives it a trush-like impression;
  • Strong eyebrow extends well behind the eye;
  • Strong bill;
  • Thin and short streaks only on the breast;
  • Diffuse contrast on middle wing coverts, "short" dark center points to the end.

Blyth's Pipit (photo by Markus Varesvuo)

Vagrant, occurs between October to December. Prefers the same habitat as Richards Pipit but occurs more in the open then Richard's.

  • Weak eyebrow;
  • Shorter tail and bill then Richard's;
  • More contrasting middle wing coverts and less pointy center;
  • Shorter nail on hind toe;
  • More whitish wing covert edges.

Rock Pipit (photo Rudi de Bruyne)

Mainly found on coastal rocky shores from September till May. Later in spring more often inland and on grasslands and mudflats.

  • Non or hardly any white on the outer tail feathers;
  • Overall dull impression with hardly any contrasting streakings;
  • Dark malar stripe;
  • Slight lighter eyebrow;
  • Mantle hasn't any obvious stripes.

Water Pipit (photo Fred Visscher /

More confided to fresh water. Occurs from September till May. Forages on grass always near the water.

  • White eyebrow;
  • White outer tail feathers;
  • More whitish under parts;
  • Slight stripes on a more greyish mantle;
  • Tawny colored rump.

Buff-bellied Pipit (photo Ronan McCaughlin)

Occurs on both habitats as Rock and Water Pipit. Autumn vagrant, mainly October. No records in the Netherlands.

  • Smaller then Rock- and Water Pipit, size of Meadow Pipit;
  • Doensn't have a clears dark superciliary like Water Pipit;
  • More contrasting coverts and tertials then Water- and Rock Pipit;
  • Buff (brown) belly;
  • Grey neck and mantle with hardly any striping.

Pacific Pipit (photo Nial Moores)

Same habitat as American Pipit. No records in the Netherlands but potential vagrant.

  • Brighter brownish legs, dark with American- and Water Pipit;
  • More whitish coverts lines;
  • Thin streaks on the breast, only a few on the flanks;
  • Complete white eye orbit;
  • Creamish under parts.