Thursday, April 3, 2008

Pied-billed Grebes

Last week I caught a glimpse of a small, slender-necked, duck-shaped bird on the river near Ames Park. This morning I was able to confirm that there are at least three Pied-billed Grebes there.


This small (perhaps two-thirds the size of a mallard) diving bird is recognizable by its chicken-like, light-colored bill.

I will keep an eye out for them and hope to have some better photos later. I am always delighted to discover something other than our typical mallards and Canada geese right here in central Northfield, and it would be wonderful if these birds choose this location for their breeding ground. Here are some more facts about the Pied-billed Grebe from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

  • The Pied-billed Grebe is common on lakes and ponds across North America. It is rarely seen in flight. It 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, the Pied-billed Grebe does not have webbed feet. Instead of having a webbing connecting all the toes, each toe has lobes extending out on the sides 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.

9 comments:

Rob Hardy said...

That's exciting, Penny. Clara had seen those birds, and described them to me, but I had no idea what they were from her description!

Penelope said...

I had a little help honing in on the identification from my fiance and personal birding expert, Dave.

Bleeet said...

You should walk out to the ponds around Superior and Maple. We had a loon there most of the day when the ice disappeared on Sunday. We get herons (at least two types), geese (with new goslings in tow, too cute), an eagle or two, hawks, and several types of ducks and duck-like birds. Plus we have muskrats, and a beaver or two. It's quite fun to watch. A photographer with a good zoom lens could catch many quality shots. Give it a try, there's a nice walking path around the whole pond. It's residential, so not the same feel as the Arb, of course, but the sightlines are wide open.

Mary Schier said...

Let me second Brendon's suggestion of coming out to the ponds near Jefferson/Maple/Prairie, etc. We noticed the herons had returned earlier this week, and last night saw a gorgeous red-tail hawk in our oak tree in the back yard. I ran to get the camera, but the hawk departed before I got back. We also saw the muskrat the other day. Lots of wild action on the south end of town.

Penelope said...

Bleeet and Mary: What an excellent suggestion! Dave and I were planning a walk this evening, and I will try to steer us down that way!

I think I may have just seen a bufflehead -- my zoom is not that powerful, but it was a duck with a lot of white on it. Stay tuned...

Rob Hardy said...

I just went through the field guide with Clara, and she wants to emend her identification of what she saw to Hooded Merganser.

Penelope said...

Cool! I saw something on the far side of the river today that I thought might be a bufflehead, just judging from the amount of white I thought I was seeing. Could have been the same thing. I couldn't get close enough or zoom in far enough with my camera for anything more than a guess. But there was a bufflehead on the river last spring, I remember. They are so cute!

Bleeet said...

I spoke with a Ducks Unlimited friend last night who keeps track of these things. He told me there are many, many different species of migratory fowl and birds that are on their way north following the ice-out along the lakes and ponds and rivers. Many of them will go all the way to Hudson Bay for the summer. He said they should be in the area for the next week or two. Come watch them now. The ponds in the Great Lakes Streets area (Superior, Michigan, etc...) are quite alive with different birds.

Geez, I sound like a tourism toadie... but really, come down now to get a peek.

Penelope said...

Went down there last evening, Brendon, but perhaps a little too late, as there was not much to be seen. Mary and I are going to check it out at lunchtime today!