Following my earlier post on the Richard’s Pipit, let’s now explore a similar species which can be commonly seen in Thailand and many parts of Asia. The Paddyfield Pipit (Anthus rufulus) is a common resident bird throughout Thailand. It’s one of the most common birds in farmland and grassy habitats, so it’s the default large pipit here. Similar to the Richard’s Pipit, the Paddyfield Pipit also has incredibly variable plumage and structure. Let’s go through some of the variations that I’ve seen and photographed.
Let’s start with the classic look of the Paddyfield Pipit. When seen in the field, it often appears rather compact with short tail and rather large head. It also usually appears noticeably smaller than the Richard’s Pipit, although the race sinensis of Richard’s Pipit might not differ in size. The hind claws of Paddyfield Pipit are also shorter than in Richard’s Pipit, but not much different from Blyth’s Pipit. Again, the most diagnostic feature that I find useful for separating these two similar species is the bill. Paddyfield Pipit has a long and narrow bill with fine bill tip, and the culmen is not noticeably curved as in Richard’s Pipit. Another feature that is often useful is the lore colour. In Paddyfield Pipit, the lore usually appears darker than in Richard’s and Blyth’s Pipit. However, some Paddyfield Pipits can also have rather pale lores, while both Richard’s and Blyth’s Pipit might appear to have dark lores too, especially when seen in profile or while moulting. It is important to pay attention to several features and not relying on a single characteristic when trying to identify them.
Apart from the bill and lore colour, I find the overall plumage colouration and plumage markings to be highly variable as well. Some birds appear very warm rufous or buffish-brown, while some appear more greyish. Some birds are also very plain-looking, while some have bold streaking on upperparts and breast. Two subspecies are described to be found in Thailand; malayensis in the south and nominate throughout the rest of the country. Although the race malayensis is described to be darker and more heavily streaked than the nominate, there seems to be a wide range of plumage variation among each subspecies as well.
Since Paddyfield Pipit is the only resident pipit in Thailand, it’s the only species that can be seen in fresh juvenile plumage. The juvenile has much bolder plumage markings than the adult. The upperparts are dark with contrasting pale fringes, and the secondaries are more rufous.
Similar to other pipits, Paddyfield Pipits usually make a series of calls when flushed or while in flight. The call is an explosive, yet softer than in Richard’s Pipit, “chwist” which is often repeated. Since it’s a resident bird, it’s also the only pipit that can be observed singing and performing the flight display. The song is a series of feeble “tseep” notes, followed by 5-20 “clink” notes during descent. The typical call can be listened here https://www.xeno-canto.org/557444, while the song can be listened here https://www.xeno-canto.org/560516.