VIGILANT: The Australian pipit is always on the lookout.
VIGILANT: The Australian pipit is always on the lookout. Contributed

Our winged meerkat is a feathered sentinel

THIS bird was standing tall on top of a gravel heap much like a meerkat surveying the world.

He would give a little "chirrip'' call, then continue to look all around with no intention of moving when pesky bird observers came on the scene.

He may well have been the designated lookout for the day, as there were other pipits nearby. His upright posture and teetering tail movement were typical of the Australian pipit Anthus australis which belongs to the motacillidae family.

The genus is widespread, occurring across most of the world except the driest deserts, rainforests and the mainland of Antarctica.

The genus name Anthus is the very appropriate Latin name for small bird of grasslands. Our Australian pipit has only more recently been renamed. Before that it was known as Richard's pipit. Thanks to scientific studies we now know that Richard's pipit Anthus richardi is a long-distant migrant of Asia, moving from lowlands in areas such as southwest Asia to breed in open grassland in northern Asia. The courting male Australian pipit has a song flight from a low perch. The breeding season is from August to December.

The nest is a deep grass cup shape usually built in a depression beside a rock or at the base of a clump of vegetation.

The female builds the nest and incubates the two to four eggs. He keeps watch for two weeks then helps feed the chicks for another two weeks before they are able to fly. Australian pipits do not migrate. They are usually sedentary but locally nomadic. When next you see a small brown bird roadside, or even in the middle of a country road looking for insects, you will likely be looking at an Australian pipit, his identity confirmed if his tail feathers show conspicuous white outer edges as he flies away.