Pie-billed Grebe

February 13, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

To start off this post, I would like to let everyone know that I have recently become a member of the Chequamegon Audubon Society board of directors. Chequamegon Audubon is a group focused on education and conservation pertaining to our local Chequamegon ecosystems. We are part of the National Audubon Society. We have some exciting things coming up this year including programs held at the Great Lakes Visitor Center and the 10th anniversary of the Chequamegon Bay Bird and Nature festival on the 19th, 20th, and 21st of May. For the festival I will again be leading a group on a photo outing on Saturday, May 20th. Plan on joining us at the vistor center. We have some great speakers and interesting topics on local birds and nature. Visit our Facebook page to find out the details https://www.facebook.com/ChequamegonAudubonSociety.  

This post, featuring the Pie-billed Grebe, will be the first in short series featuring the members of the Grebe family which I have captured photos of in the Chequamegon Bay Area. In my experience, the Pie-billed Grebe is the one most likely to be spotted by us. At least in the viewing positions I have observed from, which is mainly sitting in mud along a shoreline. I am sure that is 90% of us right? Our boating friends have a different viewpoint and may commonly see other types of Grebes. So much for being a land-lubber. On with the Grebes...

The widest ranging of the North American Grebes, the Pie-billed Grebe is tolerant of highly populated areas and is often seen breeding on lakes and ponds across North America. It is a powerful swimmer and can remain submerged for 16-30 seconds when it dives. In contrast to some of the elaborate displays of other grebe species, its courtship ritual is more vocal than visual and a pair usually duet-call in the mating season. Migration is done at night and is delayed until its breeding area ices up and food sources become scarce. The Pie-billed Grebe is capable of sustained flights of over 2000 miles.

Cool Facts(credit: allaboutbirds.org)

  • The Latin genus name for “grebe” means “feet at the buttocks”—an apt descriptor for these birds, whose feet are indeed located near their rear ends. This body plan, a common feature of many diving birds, helps grebes propel themselves through water. Lobed (not webbed) toes further assist with swimming. Pied-billed Grebes pay for their aquatic prowess on land, where they walk awkwardly.
  • Pied-billed Grebe chicks typically leave the nest the first day after hatching and spend much of their first week riding around on a parent’s back. They usually spend most of their first 3 weeks on or near the nest platform.
  • Pied-billed Grebes are fairly poor fliers and typically stay on the water—although rare individuals have managed to fly as far as the Hawaiian Islands, Europe, the Azores, and the Canary Islands.
  • Pied-billed Grebes can trap water in their feathers, giving them great control over their buoyancy. They can sink deeply or stay just at or below the surface, exposing as much or as little of the body as they wish. The water-trapping ability may also aid in the pursuit of prey by reducing drag in turbulent water.
  • Like other grebes, the Pied-billed Grebe eats large quantities of its own feathers. Feathers may at times fill up more than half of a grebe’s stomach, and they are sometimes fed to newly hatched chicks. The ingested plumage appears to form a sieve-like plug that prevents hard, potentially harmful prey parts from passing into the intestine, and it helps form indigestible items into pellets which they can regurgitate.
  • When in danger, Pied-billed Grebes sometimes make a dramatic “crash-dive” to get away. A crash-diving grebe pushes its body down with its wings thrust outward. Its tail and head disappears last, while the bird kicks water several feet into the air.

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