OUSEL, or Ouzel, Anglo-Saxon ósle, equivalent of the German Amsel (a form of the word found in several old English books), apparently the ancient name for what is now more commonly known as the blackbird (q.v.), Turdus merula, but at the present day not often applied to that species, though used in a compound form for birds belonging to another genus and family.
The water-ousel, or water-crow, is now commonly named the “dipper”—a term apparently invented and bestowed in the first edition of T. Bewick's British Birds (ii. 16, 17)—not, as is commonly supposed, from the bird's habit of entering the water Cinclus mexicanus. in pursuit of its prey, but because “it may be seen perched on the top of a stone in the midst of the torrent, in a continual dipping motion, or short courtesy often repeated.” The English dipper, Cinclus aquaticus, is the type of a small family, the Cinclidae, probably more nearly akin to the wrens (q.v.) than to the thrushes, and with examples throughout the more temperate portions of Europe and Asia, as well as North and South America. The dipper haunts rocky streams, into which it boldly enters, generally by deliberately wading, and then by the strenuous combined action of its wings and feet makes its way along the bottom in quest of its living prey—fresh-water molluscs and aquatic insects in their larval or mature condition. Complaints of its attacks on the spawn of fish have not been justified by examination of the stomachs of captured specimens. Short and squat of stature, active and restless in its movements, dusky above, with a pure white throat and upper part of the breast, to which succeeds a broad band of dark bay, it is a familiar figure to most fishermen on the streams it frequents. The water-ousel's nest is a very curious structure—outwardly resembling a wren's, but built on a wholly different principle—an ordinary cup-shaped nest of grass lined with dead leaves, placed in some convenient niche, but encased with moss so as to form a large mass that covers it completely except a small hole for the bird's passage. The eggs laid within are from four to seven in number, and are of a pure white. The young are able to swim before they are fully fledged. (A. N.)