Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pied-Billed Grebe

This week's post is inspired by  photos of a Pied-billed Grebe on the nest at Hagerman NWR, by Eileen Sullivan.  According to David Sibley, The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behaviorscientists think that grebes originated millions of years ago.  While there are other species of grebes, Pied-billed are the only living member of their genus, Podilymbus.  Other North American species are Red-necked, Eared, and Horned Grebes.

A dictionary search informed us that "Pied" refers to multi-colored, patterned, having patches of two or more colors.  The Wordbook dictionary app traces the origin of "pied" to the "magpie" with its black and white plumage.
Pied-billed Grebe, nest, at HNWR
In The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior (pp. 127-131) we read that the Pied-billed Grebe is a small, diving waterbird with a short bill.  It feeds on small aquatic invertebrates, small fish, vegetation and insects.

Grebes are said to have elaborate courtship displays.  Most species nest on freshwater lakes and ponds.  Both sexes build the nest which is usually anchored to aquatic plants, and a clutch consists of from 3 - 10 eggs.

Pied-billed Grebe on nest at HNWR
Here are some "Cool Facts" about the Pied-billed Grebe, from All About Birds website:

Rarely seen flying, the Pied-billed Grebe prefers to escape predators by diving, and it migrates at night. However, it can fly, and stray individuals have reached Hawaii and Europe. 
Although it swims like a duck, instead of webbed feet,  the Pied-billed Grebe  has lobes extending out on the sides of each toe that provide extra surface area for paddling.

The downy chicks can leave the nest soon after hatching, but they do not swim well at first and do not spend much time in the water in the first week. They sleep on the back of a parent, held close beneath its wings. By the age of four weeks, the young grebes are spending day and night on the water. For the first ten days their response to danger is to climb onto a parent's back.  After that, when danger threatens, they dive under water.

Legs set far back on body, adapted to swimming underwater, make grebes walk poorly. (Sibley)

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