Paddyfield Pipit

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.

A classic look of the Paddyfield Pipit; note the long and narrow bill with fine tip, short tail and dark lore. The hind claws of this bird, however, are unusually long. (Date 18 November 2017)
This individual has rather pale lore, but all the classic features are there. (Date 2 February 2021)
Another individual with pale lore; note short tail, compact body and short hind claws (Date 15 April 2021)
The loral stripe, malar and breast marking can be very bold in some birds. This individual has a rather thick bill, but it lacks the curved culmen like in Richard’s Pipit. The tail is also obviously short and the head appears large. (Date 2 January 2021)
Another bird with similar structure; note the very short tail, large head and long narrow bill (Date 2 January 2021)
In some birds, the bill can even appear slightly pointed upward due to the lack of curved culmen. (Date 24 September 2018)
This individual probably has the most unusual bill for Paddyfield Pipit that I’ve seen. The bill is unusually fine and slender with extensive amount of black on the lower mandible. However, other diagnostic features for Paddyfield Pipit are there, including the dark loral stripe. (Date 14 February 2021)

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.

This individual is very plain-looking with rufous-brown underparts. (Date 5 October 2018)
In the heat, it can appear very small and slim. Note the very short tail, long narrow bill and dark lore. (Date 17 October 2019)
This individual has very dark plumage with rich buffish-brown head and breast. Note the overall compact structure and very short tail. The lore, however, is unusually pale for Paddyfield Pipit. (Date 18 December 2016)
Although most Paddyfield Pipits have plain buffish-brown cheeks, some may have paler cheeks with contrasting facial stripes. This individual probably has the palest cheeks that I’ve seen. Note the very strong dark loral stripe and narrow bill. (Date 2 February 2021)
The breast marking can be very bold in some individuals. This one was photographed in Pak Phanang, Nakhon Si Thammarat, so it’s most likely the subspecies malayensis according to the distribution. Note that this individual has an unusually thick and strong bill. (Date 1 April 2021)

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.

Juvenile Paddyfield Pipit has a striking plumage that looks very different from the adult. (Date 22 April 2021)
A juvenile in alert posture. Note the bold pale fringes to the upperparts and rufous secondaries. (Date 22 April 2021)
A younger bird that looks very pale overall because of the bold pale fringes. (Date 18 April 2021)
Another view of the same young juvenile. It’s quite unusual to see such a pale bird. (Date 18 April 2021)
Older juvenile becomes darker as the pale fringes wear off and the secondaries become less rufous. (Date 9 July 2016)

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.

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