Blyth’s Pipit

Blyth’s Pipit (Anthus godlewskii) is the rarest large pipit in Thailand, and probably the trickiest one to identify among the 3 similar species. It was first recorded in Thailand at Khao Yai National Park by a visiting birder, then followed by a single bird found in Samut Prakan on 29 October 2014, and a bird which I found at Khao Dinsor, Chumphon on 5 October 2016. To my surprise, I found 2 more individuals at the Mae Faek pipit roost in 2021. These two birds offered me the opportunity to observe and photograph them closely throughout the season. In this post, we’ll discuss about the identification of this rare and cryptic species.

Classic posture of Blyth’s Pipit; note the fine small bill, short tail, short legs and short hind claws. This individual already attained most of the adult feathers including the median coverts which show more square-shaped dark centres unlike in Richard’s and Paddyfield Pipit. (Date 23 April 2021)
A different individual which still retained most of the juvenile wing feathers. Note the short-legged look and fine bill which are diagnostic to Blyth’s Pipit. The plumage is well streaked, especially on the crown and mantle. The median coverts show a mix of both juvenile (worn) and adult (fresh) feathers. (Date 20 April 2021)
This is the same individual as in the first image, but taken when it was still in worn first-winter plumage. Note that the shape of dark median covert centre is more pointed than in the adult, and cannot be used to identify from either Richard’s or Paddyfield Pipit. Only the adult-type median coverts that are different from other species. (Date 18 March 2021)
While perching on a tree, it can be told from the similar Richard’s Pipit by having short tail and short hind claws. (Date 23 March 2021)
Similar to Richard’s and Paddyfield Pipit, I find the bill to be the most diagnostic feature. Blyth’s Pipit has the smallest bill among the 3 species with fine tip. The culmen is not curved as in Richard’s Pipit and the bill is much shorter than in Paddyfield Pipit. (Date 20 April 2021)
When relaxed, the head and body feathers are often fluffed up creating a very different look from either Richard’s or Paddyfield Pipit. In such posture, the bill looks even smaller than normal. Note that the supercilium often appears faint or even lacking. (Date 17 April 2021)
In the heat or when stressed, it can become very small and slim. The overall structure in such condition can strongly resemble Paddyfield Pipit, except for the different bill shape and movements. (Date 22 April 2021)
Note the horizontal posture of the Blyth’s Pipit while feeding (Date 20 April 2021)

Apart from the different plumage and structure, I also find the movements of Blyth’s Pipit while feeding to be slightly different from both Richard’s and Paddyfield Pipit; being more horizontal, squatting and stealthy. It usually forages in short grass, looking for food items hidden under the grass. I’ve observed it while hunting on various kinds of worms, dragonflies and spiders.

A Blyth’s Pipit feeding on a green caterpillar (Date 18 April 2021)
Note the horizontal posture while foraging (Date 24 April 2021)
Blyth’s Pipit (left) standing with a Richard’s Pipit (right); note the smaller size and tiny bill (Date 27 April 2021)
Another diagnostic feature of Blyth’s Pipit is the tail pattern. The second outermost pair of tail feathers has a very small white patch at the tip. In Richard’s and Paddyfield Pipit, the second outermost tail feathers are nearly all white, similar to the outermost tail feathers. (Date 21 April 2021)
However, the outer tail feathers are mostly invisible, except when the bird is stretching. Also note the square-shaped dark centre to the median coverts. Although this individual attained most of the adult body feathers, tertials and median coverts, it still retained the juvenile flight feathers, primary coverts, lesser coverts and half of the greater coverts. (Date 21 April 2021)
Hind claw is another diagnostic feature that is often hidden, as it mostly forages in the grass. Only when perching in the open, the short hind claws can be seen. (Date 27 April 2021)
Another photo showing the short hind claws; note the overall structure, fine tiny bill and short tail (Date 26 April 2021)
Blyth’s Pipit can often appear to have a pot-belly look similar to Richard’s Pipit, but it has a much finer bill and shorter legs. Most birds, especially juvenile and first-winter, show much bolder streaking on the crown and mantle as well. Also note that it usually has very pale lores creating an open-faced impression. (Date 20 April 2021)
When alert, it can resemble a small Richard’s Pipit (race sinensis), but still has a different head and bill structure. (Date 20 April 2021)
In a quite relaxed stance among mimosa shrubs; note the lack of clear supercilium, fine bill and median covert pattern (Date 25 April 2021)

Flight call is also very useful for the identification. Similar to other species, Blyth’s Pipits often call when flushed, although from my experience with these two birds, they don’t call very often and usually call only once immediately after taking flight. To my ears, the typical flight call sounds much softer than in Richard’s Pipit but not as wheezy as in Paddyfield Pipit. The flight of Blyth’s Pipit call can be listened here https://www.xeno-canto.org/369049.

As winter has come to an end, most migrants are already gone from the roosting site, including most of the Richard’s Pipits. I’m surprised to find that the first Blyth’s Pipit which I found on 17 March 2021 is still hanging around even today (30 April). The second individual was only seen for 2 consecutive days (19 & 20 April), so it was clearly just passing through on its way back to the breeding ground. I wonder when will the first bird make its departure. Hopefully, I’ll get to see both of them in the next winter too.

4 thoughts on “Blyth’s Pipit

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  1. Excellent summary and wonderful photographs, Ayuwat. If it is not too much trouble, could you add the date on which each photo was taken? Thank you, Killian

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