The time-activity budget and energy expenditure of a riverine bird, the dipper Cinclus cinclus, was studied from March 1988 to July 1989, across a range of streams of contrasting acidity in upland Wales. Differences in time-activity budgets of birds on acidic and circumneutral streams were consistent with documented differences in prey availability and diet. Birds spent a significantly greater proportion of their active day foraging, swimming and flying, and less time resting, on acidic streams. Activity measurements varied significantly through the year, through the day, and with river flow. Despite differences in time budgets, mean Daily Energy Expenditure (DEE) on acidic streams was only 4.5-7.0% greater than on circumneutral streams. However, rates of energy gain were greater for dippers on circumneutral streams for every month of the year, a pattern confirmed by differences in body condition. By spending more time feeding, dippers on acidic streams will have less time for other activities such as self-maintenance and predator surveillance; they may also be less able to meet the additional demands accompanying the initiation of breeding. These findings are discussed in relation to the feeding ecology and breeding performance of dippers on streams of contrasting water quality in upland Wales. © 1990 Springer-Verlag.