Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens 黃腹鷚

Category I. Scarce winter visitor to freshwater wetland and fish pond areas.


Alt Text

Dec. 2022, Paul Leader.

15-17 cm. Differs from regularly-occurring pipits in HK in having a relatively plain mantle and nape with only subdued darker streaking. Winter-plumaged birds are overall rather dull grey-brown with off-white underparts and tips to median and greater coverts and dark streaks across chest and down flanks. The face pattern is relatively poorly-marked meaning the orbital ring can seem rather prominent, and any supercilium is only above and just behind the eye; the legs are pale. Occasionally birds moulting to breeding plumage are noted, with the underparts, lores and sides of neck being variably pinkish-buff with reduced streaking.


The flight call is a high-pitched and rather thin ‘tsip’ or ‘tseep’, quite different from the commonly-occurring pipits in HK.


Buff-bellied Pipits favour areas of low-lying marsh, wet agriculture and fish ponds in the northwest New Territories, particularly drained fish ponds. Most records have come from Long Valley and the Mai Po area, but it is also frequently recorded in commercial fish pond areas. Other sites include freshwater marsh in the northern New Territories and on Lantau and at Kam Tin, Chek Lap Kok airfield and Nim Wan.


Buff-bellied Pipit is largely present from mid-October to mid-March (Figure 1); extreme dates are 10 October 2009 and 20 April 2017. Numbers are highest in January and February, peaking in the last week of January and first week of February, indicating a response to cold weather further north.

The highest count on record is of 23 birds at San Tin fish ponds on 6 February 2015. Birds apparently on active migration have been noted from 1 November to 11 December, mainly over Mai Po NR, including 20 flying south there on 6 December. Most counts, however, are of ten birds or fewer.

It was not until 1983 that the occurrence of Buff-bellied Pipit in HK was substantiated adequately. Between 1983 and 1985 birds were regularly seen in small parties in winter with maximum counts of 20 on 12th and 15 January 1985. Birds presumably this species were reported as being common during 1955-57 on the Deep Bay Marshes between 23 November and 10 March (Macfarlane and Macdonald 1966).


Can occur in loose flocks. Regularly seen on migration early morning at Mai Po NR and other sites in the northern New Territories in November. Forages on insects and small invertebrates, but no details.


Breeds in northeast Russia and far northeast China and winters mainly in Japan, Taiwan and south China (Alström et al. 2003). In China winters largely south of the Chang Jiang (Yangtze River) but is a rare winter visitor as far north as Beijing (Liu and Chen 2020, Birding Beijing 2022).

Three subspecies are recognised, of which japonicus occurs in Asia: the remaining two breed in North America east to west Greenland.


IUCN: Least Concern. Population trend decreasing.

Figure 1.

Alström, P., K. Mild and B. Zetterström (2003). Pipits and Wagtails of Europe, Asia and North America. Christopher Helm, London.

Birding Beijing (2022). The status of the birds of Beijing. https://birdingbeijing.com/the-status-of-the-birds-of-beijing/ (Accessed 14 June 2022).

Macfarlane, A. M. and A. D. Macdonald, revised by Caunter, J. R. L. and A. M. Macfarlane (1966). An Annotated Check-list of the Birds of Hong Kong. Hong Kong Bird Watching Society, Hong Kong.

Liu, Y. and Y. H. Chen (eds) (2020). The CNG Field Guide to the Birds of China (in Chinese). Hunan Science and Technology Publication House, Changsha.

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