At the beginning of January 2019, I found two Richard´s pipits (Anthus richardi) in one of my local patches: the fields next to the Sewage treatment pond, close to Peniche town, West Portugal. The presence of Richard´s pipits, during the winter in these fields, has been anual. This autumn, one of the fields has been plowed and the pipits spend some time feeding off of the tall grass. They feed particularly on earthworms. With the scope and the folding chair in hand, I spent some time having fun studying the behavior and moult pattern of these two individuals.
Moult in Richrad´s pipit
Post-nuptial (adult): It is complex and variable, but seems to follow 3 different strategies:
1. Birds that undergo a complete moult on the breeding grounds (July-September)
2. Birds that suspend moult and resume it on the wintering grounds.
3. Birds that undergo a complete moult on the wintering grounds.
Post-juvenile: Partial moult that may be more or less extensive. Often the partial moult involves the replacement of head and body feathers, leaving the mantle, rump and upper tail coverts unmoulted. The moult usually includes a variable number of coverts (lesser, medium and, less extensively, greater coverts). Sometimes the moult also includes a few tertials and tail feathers.
Between October and January may occur an "additional" moult, in which some birds can replace some body and tail feathers, tertials and greater coverts.
Pre-nuptial: Many birds, both adults and immatures, perform a partial pre-nuptial moult, which usually involves the body, some coverts and tail feathers.
The birds of Peniche
The two pipits were notoriously different in coloration, which made it relatively easy to know exactly which individual I was observing in each moment. The birds spent some time actively feeding close to each other, which allowed a direct comparison with the same light and angle. Although sometimes the photos may slightly alter the colors, they seem, in this case, quite faithful to what I observed in the field. Ind. (A) was generally paler. The underparts were white with buffish infusions, almost restricted to the lower flanks. The back was pale with dark spots, formed by the center of some mantle feathers. The birds, despite the distinct appearance, were both immatures (1st winter), revealed by the pattern, color and wear of some greater coverts.
Moult extension in Ind. (A)
Ind. (A), was notoriously paler. I believe it was due to having made a partial post-juvenile moult before migration, which causes the plumage to wear out. The moult, from what I could observe, seemed symmetrical. This bird had three different feather generations: juvenile feathers, which apparently included the primaries, secondaries, primary coverts and most of the greater coverts; feathers acquired in the post-juvenile moult (pre-migration), which included medium coverts, a single greater covert (Gc 10), a tertial (T8), tail feathers (R1 and apparently R2); the scapulars and lesser coverts seem to have been replaced in a recent post-juvenile moult, early in winter.
(1) - Visible median coverts, replaced in the post-juvenile moult, they have a broad, and yellowish border that gradually merge into dark centers.
(2) – Greater coverts nr. 1-9, with juvenile pattern, presenting a thin and white border.
(3) – Greater covert no. 10, looks like it was replaced during post-juvenile moult. The center of the feather is darker and the border exibits a broader and yellowish coloration when compared to other Gc.
(4) - The scapulars and lesser coverts seem to belong to a different, more recent, generation. Judging by the little wear and tear, the moult of these feathers may have occured in the wintering grounds. I did notice a more vivid coloring, even standing out from the rest of the plumage.
(5) – Shorter tertials (T9), still juvenile, light brown and very worn.
(6) – Central tertials (T8), replaced during post-juvenile moult, showing similarity in color and level of wear with the Gc 10. Although it ‘s difficult to see in the photos, I had the feeling that both T7 were still juvenile.
(7) - Primaries and upper tail coverts stilll juvenile.
(8) - The central pair of tail feathers (R1) was replaced during the post-juvenile moult and apparently the R2, right and left, as well.
Body moult - Apparently the bird moulted some feathers of the back, head and underparts during the post-juvenile moult. It is difficult to assess the extent of this moult without seeing the bird in the hand. However, due to the faint pencil streaks on the breast, mustacial and malar stripes, there was no head or chest moult during early winter.
Moult extension in Ind. (B)
Compared with Ind. (A) this bird was darker and had the majority of the plumage in good condition. Apparently, Ind. (B), underwent a post-juvenile moult in early winter. It’s difficult to know for sure if this bird has replaced some of the coverts in a post-juvenile moult before migration, but it is likely, that if it occurred, to have been very limited. The tail feathers were in active moult, so, given the good state of conservation of the plumage, the bird may still be finishing the early winter moult.
(1) – The median coverts were recently replaced in the early winter moult, exception could be the median covert no. 4. Compared with the other adjacent coverts, it appears to have a paler edge and a more faint center. Also visible is one unmoulted juvenile lesser covert (Lc).
(2) – The greater coverts nos. 1-7, the primary and the carpal coverts are also juvenile.
(3) – Greater coverts nos. 8, 9 and 10 have been recently replaced, it’s possible to tell it by the buffish border gradually merging into the dark center of the feathers.
(4) - Tertials T9 and T7 are juvenile, but the central pair (T8) was recently replaced.
(5) – Juvenile primaries. I cannot rule out the possibility that some inner secondaries may have been moulted, sadly I could not confirm this.
6) - The back pattern is noticeably stronger and more striped than in Ind. (A). The feathers of the mantle and rump seem to have been replaced recently.
(7) – Juvenile right tail feather (R1). The left tail feather (R1) appears to be missing and the left R2 is growing, already about 3/4 of the way.
Body moult – Judging by the pristine condition of the feathers and vivid coloration, there was (or is still active) a relatively extensive early winter body moult. The well marked chest, moustacial and malar stripes reveal that the moult also included the head and chest feathers. The flanks were deeply buffish.
Just for fun, some sound recording...
It was possible to record flight calls of both birds. Here it is.
Alström, P, Mild, K & Zetterström, B 2003. Pipits & wagtails of Europe, Asia and North America: identification and systematics. London.
Svensson, L 1992. Identification guide to European passerines. Fourth edition. Stockholm.
He began birding at the age of 11 and has never stopped since. His involvement in bird ringing has developed over the years and he has a special interest in moult in passerines. He currently works as a bird guide for Birds & Nature Tours in Portugal and Spain.
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