The pipits are a cosmopolitan genus, Anthus, of small passerine birds with medium to long tails. Along with the wagtails and longclaws, the pipits make up the family Motacillidae. The genus is widespread, occurring across most of the world, except the driest deserts, rainforest and the mainland of Antarctica.
They are slender, often drab, ground-feeding insectivores of open country. Like their relatives in the family, the pipits are monogamous and territorial. Pipits are ground nesters, laying up to six speckled eggs.
The pipits have a cosmopolitan distribution, occurring across most of the world's land surface. They are the only genus in their family to occur widely in the Americas (two species of wagtails marginally occur in Alaska, as well). Three species of pipits occur in North America, and seven species occur in South America. The remaining species are spread throughout Eurasia, Africa, and Australia, along with two species restricted to islands in the Atlantic. Some six species occur on more than one continent.
As might be expected from a genus with such a wide distribution, the pipits are found in an equally wide range of habitats. They occur in most types of open habitat, although they are absent from the very driest deserts. They are mostly associated with some kind of grassland, from sea-level to alpine tundra. The rock pipit and South Georgia pipit are found in the rocks and cliffs of the seashore, whereas several species are restricted (for part of the year in some cases) to alpine areas. The family also ranges from the northern tundra and the subantarctic islands of New Zealand and the South Georgia group to the tropics. They are absent from tropical rainforest, but a few species are associated with open woodland, for example the wood pipit of southern Africa, which is found in open woodland savanna and miombo woodland.
The pipits range from entirely sedentary to entirely migratory. Insular species such as Berthelot's pipit, which is endemic to Madeira and the Canary Islands, are entirely sedentary, as are some species in warmer areas like the Nilgiri pipit. Other species are partly nomadic during the nonbreeding season, like the long-legged pipit of central Africa or the ochre-breasted pipit of South America. These seasonal movements are in response to conditions in the environment, and are poorly understood and unpredictable. Longer, more regular migrations between discrete breeding and wintering grounds are undertaken by several species. The tree pipit, which breeds in Europe and northern Asia, winters in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, a pattern of long-distance migration shared with other northerly species. Species may also be partly migratory, with northern populations being migratory but more temperate populations being resident (such as the meadow pipit in Europe). The distances involved do not have to be that long; the mountain pipit of southern Africa breeds in the Drakensberg of South Africa and migrates north only as far as Angola and Zambia. Migration is usually undertaken in groups and may happen both during the day and at night. Some variation happens in this, for example, Sprague's pipit of North America apparently only migrates by day.