American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) Illustration with a Note on the Evolution of Cinclidae

by Bryce W. Robinson


American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus). 11×14″ gouache on watercolor board. 

I enjoy supplementing each illustration I do with a bit of deeper discussion pertaining to the subject at hand. Because I’m beginning more in-depth study of evolutionary history and relationships in birds, I’ll give a brief synopsis of our current understanding (thanks to Gary Voelker) of the evolution of the five species belonging to the dipper family (Cinclidae) and the origins of the American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) to complement this illustration.

Although the phylogenetics (genetic history) of dippers was published in 2002, and thus utilized mitochondrial data to inform the inferences I’ll lay out below, I suspect applying new techniques wouldn’t change the outcome much. That’s just a hunch, and revisiting the phylogenetics with next generation sequencing methods is certainly warranted and needed.

Mitochondrial data shows two important evolutionary points:

  • Dippers (Cinclidae) are most closely related to Thrushes (Turdidae).
  • Dippers originated in the old world, where they diverged and colonized the new world later (~4 million years ago).

Fun and interesting information for understanding dipper diversity.

If you are a dipper lover and you’d like a print, you can purchase one here:×14-limited-giclee-print-american-dipper

Referenced literature:

Voelker, G. 2002. Molecular phylogenetics and historical biogeography of dippers (Cinclus). Ibis 144(4):577 – 584.