Bird O'clock

9 Fascinating Facts About the Buff-bellied Hermit and Pipit

The Buff-bellied Hermit, also known as Phaethornis subochraceus, is a hummingbird species found in the tropical regions of central and northern South America. This bird is known for its distinctive plumage and unique features that set it apart from other species.


Field Identification:

The Buff-bellied Hermit has dark green upperparts and a buff-colored belly, which is where it derives its name from. The throat is white, and the tail is slightly forked.

Its wingspan is approximately 12cm, making it a small bird. Similar Species:

The Buff-bellied Hermit is often confused with several other hummingbird species, including Long-billed Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, and Streak-throated Hermit.

The main differences lie in the bird’s size and plumage features. The Buff-bellied Hermit is smaller than other hermit species and has a distinct buff-colored belly.


The Buff-bellied Hermit has two distinct plumages, namely juvenile and adult plumages. The juvenile plumage is characterized by green upperparts and a buff-colored belly, and the tail is slightly rounded.

In contrast, adult plumage features a dark green upper body, with a more distinctive buff belly. The throat also turns a vibrant white, and the tail takes on a slightly forked shape.


Like most bird species, Buff-bellied Hermits undergo molting, where they replace old feathers with new ones. Unlike other species, however, the Buff-bellied Hermit molts two times in a year, with the first molting occurring between April and June.

During this period, the birds replace old feathers from their head to the breast. Afterward, they return to breeding plumage, which they maintain until the second molting stage between October and December.

During this period, they replace the remaining feathers, completing the cycle. Conclusion:

The Buff-bellied Hermit is a unique and fascinating bird species, with an identifiable buff-colored belly, dark green upperparts, and a vibrant white throat.

Although it may be similar to other hermit species, the Buff-bellied Hermit stands out through its unique morphological features and migration habits. The two molting periods are particularly interesting to note, as the bird switches from juvenile to adult plumage over the course of a year.

These unique features make the Buff-bellied Hermit worth watching out for on your next birdwatching expedition. Systematics History:

The Buff-bellied Pipit (Anthus rubescens) is a bird species in the family Motacillidae, which is widely distributed throughout the Americas.

The systematics of this species have gone through several changes over the years, with various studies providing new insights into the bird’s geographic variation, subspecies, and related species. Geographic Variation:

The Buff-bellied Pipit is distributed over a wide range of habitats in the Americas, from Canada to the southern tip of South America.

However, their distribution is highly fragmented, with reports of different populations occupying different regions across the Americas. The species’ geographic variation is a result of genetic differences arising from isolation due to geographic barriers.


There are currently four recognized subspecies of the Buff-bellied Pipit, each with distinct morphological and behavioral features. The subspecies comprise Anthus rubescens rubescens, Anthus rubescens japonicus, Anthus rubescens perdix, and Anthus rubescens australis.

Anthus rubescens rubescens is found in the northern regions of Canada and Alaska. This subspecies is characterized by a broad dark band on its chin, a buff-colored belly, and a slightly curved bill.

Anthus rubescens japonicus is found in the eastern parts of Russia and Japan. It has a blackish-chinstrap, a dark brown coloration on its upperparts, and a buff-colored belly.

Anthus rubescens perdix is a subspecies found in the Andes of South America and has a more prominent stripe over its eyes and reddish-brown flanks. Anthus rubescens australis is found in southern South America and is characterized by its larger size and darker coloration.

Related Species:

The Buff-bellied Pipit is one of the many species in the family Motacillidae, which includes more than 60 different species of pipits and wagtails. The Buff-bellied Pipit is most closely related to the American Pipit (Anthus rubescens), which is found in similar habitats throughout North and South America.

However, the Buff-bellied Pipit can be distinguished from the American Pipit by its shorter legs, curved bill, and buff-colored belly. Historical Changes to Distribution:

The distribution of the Buff-bellied Pipit has undergone significant changes over the years, as a result of human activities and changes in the climate.

In the early 1900s, the species was relatively common throughout the central and eastern parts of North America. However, by the early 1930s, there were reports of the species decreasing in numbers significantly.

One significant change to the species’ distribution was the conversion of natural habitats to farmland. The species was observed to be more common in uncultivated fields with high grass and wildflower cover.

Therefore, the conversion of natural habitats eliminated the bird’s nesting and feeding areas, leading to its population decline. Another factor that contributed to the species’ declining distribution was the increasing use of pesticides and herbicides on farmland.

The chemicals destroyed the insects that the birds fed on, leading to malnutrition and reduced reproductive success. The construction of highways and infrastructure projects also contributed to the species’ declining numbers.

The highways and other infrastructure projects cut through the bird’s habitat, leading to habitat fragmentation, which rendered their habitats unsuitable for the species’ survival. Conclusion:

The Buff-bellied Pipit is a fascinating bird species whose systematics have undergone significant changes over the years.

The species’ geographic variation, subspecies, and related species are just some of the aspects of this bird’s systematics that have been studied extensively. Human activities and changes in the climate have also affected the bird’s distribution, leading to significant changes in their numbers and habitat suitability.

However, conservation efforts are currently underway to prevent the species’ extinction and ensure that the Buff-bellied Pipit and other bird species continue to thrive in their natural habitats. Habitat:

The Buff-bellied Pipit is a bird species that inhabits a variety of open habitats across its range.

These habitats include tundra, grasslands, deserts, agricultural fields, and meadows. They prefer open areas with scattered bushes and other vegetation, as they use these for shelter and nesting sites.

The species is predominantly found in North and South America, and their distribution is influenced by the availability of their preferred habitats. Movements and Migration:

The Buff-bellied Pipit is a long-distance migrant, with populations breeding in the Arctic regions of North America and migrating southwards to warmer regions of South America for the non-breeding season.

The species breeds across the northern parts of North America, including the Northwest territories, Alaska, and the Yukon. After breeding, they undertake extensive migration over thousands of miles to reach their non-breeding habitats in Central and Southern Americas.

The species’ migration patterns are complex, with different populations using different routes and stopover sites. Some populations undertake coastal migration, while others take an inland route.

The species also employs different strategies during migration, including flying at night, using their senses to navigate and locate suitable food and resting sites. In the breeding season, the Buff-bellied Pipits form monogamous pair bonds as their breeding strategy.

After breeding, the pairs disband, and the birds migrate singly or in small groups, depending on the population. The birds use different features to navigate their migration routes, including celestial cues, magnetic fields, and visual landmarks.

During the migration, the Buff-bellied Pipits rely on specific stopover sites along their routes to refuel and rest. These sites include suitable habitats where they find food and shelter, such as grasslands, meadows, and agriculture fields.

The birds also stop over in coastal habitats and wetlands, where they feed on insects, aquatic invertebrates, and other food sources. The Buff-bellied Pipit’s timing of arrival and departure from their breeding and non-breeding habitats varies depending on several factors, including photoperiod, food availability, and weather patterns.

The birds’ migratory patterns are also affected by climate change, habitat loss, and other anthropogenic factors that influence their nesting and migratory habitats. Conservation:

The Buff-bellied Pipit is currently classified as a species of least concern under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

However, their population declines are attributed to habitat loss, the use of pesticides and herbicides, and other human activities that degrade their habitats. The species is also threatened by climate change, as temperature changes can affect food availability, breeding success, and migratory patterns.

Conservation efforts aimed at protecting the Buff-bellied Pipit and other bird species include habitat conservation initiatives, restoration of degraded habitats, and the use of sustainable farming practices that minimize the use of toxic chemicals. Furthermore, increasing public awareness about the importance of migratory birds, their habitats, and the conservation of biodiversity is a key step in ensuring the survival of the Buff-bellied Pipit and other bird species.

Diet and Foraging:


The Buff-bellied Pipit feeds on a variety of insects and other invertebrates during the breeding season, while during the non-breeding season, they also feed on seeds and other plant material. These birds forage in open habitats, including fields, meadows, and savannas, where they walk or run in a distinctive stop-and-go pattern as they search for food.


Buff-bellied Pipits have a diverse diet, and their feeding habits depend on the availability of food in their habitats. During the breeding season, they feed on insects, especially beetles, moths, and caterpillars, which they obtain primarily through ground foraging.

They also feed on spiders, millipedes, and other invertebrates. During the non-breeding season, the Buff-bellied Pipit diet shifts to include partially digested seeds of various plant species.

They also consume a variety of fruits and berries, particularly during migration stopovers. Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

The Buff-bellied Pipit has a high metabolism rate that is essential for their active lifestyle, which includes running or flying while looking for food.

They also have a well-developed respiratory system that functions optimally at high altitudes, making them well-suited to their high-altitude habitats. To regulate their body temperature, the Buff-bellied Pipit uses behavioral and physiological mechanisms.

During the day, they seek shade to avoid the sun’s intense heat and lower their metabolic rate to conserve energy. At night, they huddle together for warmth during the cold temperatures.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior:


The Buff-bellied Pipit’s vocalizations help with communication between individuals, particularly during breeding and territorial encounters. They have a range of calls and songs, including a sharp, chipping trill or series of notes.

The song lasts between 4 and 10 seconds, and the notes are delivered in a sharp, abrupt style. The species’ vocalizations vary depending on the population and subspecies, with some populations producing a high-pitched, monotonic tinkle that lasts for several seconds.

These calls are more frequently delivered during the non-breeding season, when they are in flocks. During territorial encounters, they produce a buzzing or hissing sound that is used to establish dominance.

This sound is produced by the rapid flapping of their wings, and it is accompanied by posturing and other aggressive behavior. In conclusion, the Buff-bellied Pipit is a fascinating bird species that depends on a variety of open habitats for its survival.

Their diet includes a wide range of insects, invertebrates, and plant material, which they obtain through ground foraging. They have a high metabolism rate and use behavioral and physiological mechanisms to regulate their temperature and conserve energy.

Their vocalizations also help with communication between individuals and play a significant role in establishing territorial boundaries and mating during the breeding season. Behavior:


The Buff-bellied Pipit is an active and mobile bird species that uses various locomotion methods to move around in its habitats.

They walk or run on the ground in a distinctive stop-and-go pattern as they search for food, often perching on low vegetation and other elevation features. During migration, they also fly long distances, often in flocks, to reach their non-breeding habitats in South and Central America.

Self Maintenance:

Buff-bellied Pipits maintain themselves through grooming and preening, using their beak to clean their feathers and remove parasites. They also engage in sunbathing, where they sit in sunny areas to warm themselves and reduce skin disease caused by feather mites, ticks, and other ectoparasites.

Agonistic Behavior:

The Buff-bellied Pipit is territorial during the breeding season, and males will aggressively defend their nesting territories from other males. They communicate their territories using vocalizations, postures, and other aggressive behaviors, including wing-flicking and chasing.

These behavioral displays help to maintain the birds’ territories and ensure breeding success. Sexual Behavior:

The Buff-bellied Pipit is a monogamous bird species that forms pair bonds during the breeding season.

The male will perform courtship displays, including aerial flights and singing, to attract a mate. Once a bond is formed, the pair will engage in mutual preening and other affiliative behaviors.

During breeding, the female lays three to six eggs, and both parents will incubate the eggs and take turns caring for the chicks, feeding them regurgitated insects. Breeding:

The Buff-bellied Pipit breeds from June to August, primarily in the northern latitudes of Alaska and the Northwest territories.

The species’ breeding behavior is influenced by their habitat and food availability, and breeding pairs will often establish territories in open landscapes with abundant food resources. The male Buff-bellied Pipit performs aerial and ground displays to attract females, including flight displays, singing, and territorial posturing.

Once a bond is formed, both parents will engage in nest building, which is generally on the ground, well hidden, and camouflaged with grass and other plant material. The female will lay 3-6 eggs, which she incubates for about two weeks.

Once hatched, the chicks are altricial, and their development is rapid, with dependency periods lasting only three weeks before fledging. Demography and Populations:

The Buff-bellied Pipit is a widespread bird species, and populations vary significantly across their range, influenced by habitat fragmentation and changes in their habitats.

Populations have faced significant declines in some regions due to habitat loss and degradation, particularly in their breeding ranges in North America. However, in some areas, the Buff-bellied Pipit’s populations remain stable due to conservation efforts aimed at habitat preservation, restoration, and sustainable farming practices.

Additionally, they also benefit from conservation efforts that help protect their non-breeding habitats in South and Central America. The Buff-bellied Pipit has been identified as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

However, continued monitoring and conservation efforts are necessary to ensure the species’ survival. The Buff-bellied Pipit is a fascinating bird species with a unique distribution across North and South America.

The bird’s systematics, movements, and habitat requirements provide valuable insights into their role in the ecosystem and their conservation needs. The Buff-bellied Pipit’s foraging behavior, vocalizations, and breeding habits also offer an intriguing glimpse into their life history and reproductive success.

While the species faces various threats, including habitat loss and degradation, conservation efforts have shown that it is possible to protect and maintain their populations. Therefore, continued monitoring and conservation efforts are essential to ensure the Buff-bellied Pipit’s survival.

Understanding the species’ behavior, ecology, and conservation needs is critical in preserving the beauty and uniqueness that the Buff-bellied Pipit brings to the natural world.

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