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Western, Pied-billed, Horned and Eared – the Grebes

March 8, 2013

Max the dog and I were exploring the low-water mud flats along Kootenay Lake yesterday. The Eared Grebe that was paddling and diving just off shore came closer to watch as Max stood in the water drinking. That little grebe kept up with us as we walked along – periodically diving but soon surfacing not far away to continue watching us. I have included some photos here.

Grebes are very, very interesting birds. The adults have red eyes and, like Coots, grebes have lobed feet that allow them to walk on marshy land and to swim very well. Their legs are positioned far back on their bodies – again allowing them to dive and swim very well after the fish, amphibians and insects that they eat. Having legs far back on their bodies makes it awkward for them to walk on land however,  and so they build their nests at the edge of the water on mats of vegetation. The young leave the nest soon after hatching, and spend much of their time on their parents’ backs – holding fast to the parental feathers when the adult dives. Grebes dive, rather than flying away, to escape any threat. Not a bad strategy if you are trying to avoid an eagle. Perhaps not so effective against Otters? They shed any colourful plumage in fall to become dark and white birds over winter – a much better camouflage on the water.  I have seen other grebes in the Kootenays and have included some photos here.

An Eared Grebe in breeding plumage at Elizabeth Lake

An Eared Grebe in breeding plumage at Elizabeth Lake

An Eared Grebe in winter plumage

An Eared Grebe in winter plumage

The Eared Grebe shown here in breeding plumage was photographed at Elizabeth Lake in a sudden and heavy rain storm. I got very, very wet but the various coots, ducks and grebes did not seem to notice the rain. The Eared Grebe shown in winter plumage is the bird that studied Max and me yesterday. It was not there today. I wish it a good journey.

Eared Grebe in winter plumage

Eared Grebe in winter plumage

Western Grebes

Western Grebes

There were about seven Western Grebes near Nelson earlier this winter. I never did see them come close to shore. The Western Grebe photos I have posted here were taken about 3 years ago further down the lake near Taghum. They are great to watch when performing their “run across the water” mating ritual.

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

By far the most common grebe here in winter is the Pied-billed Grebe. They hang around off-shore and do not often come close to shore. They are also quite common in Kootenay wetlands like Elizabeth Lake outside Cranbrook. Red-necked Grebes breed at the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area. I hope to see them this summer and perhaps even get a chance to photograph these beautiful grebes.

An Eared Grebe in winter plumage

A Horned Grebe in winter plumage

An Eared Grebe in winter plumage

A Horned Grebe in winter plumage

The Horned Grebe photos in this post were taken in the Nelson marina a couple of winters ago. The red in the photo almost matches the colour of the bird’s eyes – it is a reflection from one of the boats.

More birds seem to be moving through the area now -perhaps I will get to see more grebes.  I certainly hope I see them in their breeding plumage this summer.

all writing and photos on this blog copyright Joanne Siderius 2013.

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