Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Western Grebes--Aechmophorus occidentalis

Western Grebe on a cloudy Day at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

The Western Grebe is black and white and has a long, slender neck. Its bill is sharp and long and, it sometimes spears fish with it. You can see Western Grebes in marshes, estuaries, lakes, and rivers. They are in fresh or mixed salt and fresh water, or salt water in protected areas such as bays. Like other grebes, they often dive suddenly beneath the water for a quick bite. They eat fish, aquatic insects, mollusks and crustaceans. Mostly fish. In spring, they do some showy dancing in twos or threes by running along the water together. It is something to see.




Western Grebes resting their heads on their backs at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.


Even though they have a long neck, it is not always visible. Sometimes they look like a hat floating on the water. Where does the neck go? Oddly enough the grebe leans its head back until the back of its head is resting on its back between its wings. It kind of folds its neck back. So you see the front of the neck and the head lying against the back of the grebe.


Floating Hats? (At Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve)


video

Western Grebes at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. One leans its head back and uses its back as a head rest. (Hear how loud the traffic is? This was filmed on a path very, very close to Pacific Coast Highway.) You might have to click play twice to get the video to download.


The black top of the head can seem puffy. (At Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve)

The Western Grebe carries its babies on its back while swimming. It sometimes even submerges with the little on on its back. I guess the babies knows how to hold their breath. Yikes.


Swimming at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve by the foot bridge.


Western Grebes can be found with large groups of other water birds or with large groups of grebes, or on rare occasions alone.


Cruising. (At Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve)


Western Grebes are just over 2 feet long and have a wingspan of about 2 feet. It is the largest grebe. Other grebes include the Pied-billed Grebe, the Eared Grebe, the Least Grebe, the the Horned Grebe, and the almost identical Clark's Grebe. Clark's Grebes used to be considered the same species, but it is now considered a separate species. The Western Grebe has black around its eye, and the Clark's Grebe has white around its eye. The Clark's is also slightly lighter. Outside of breeding season it is very difficult to tell them apart.



Clark's Grebe from the side. (At Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve)


Clark's Grebe from the front. (At Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve)

So next time you are out birding, look for Western Grebe. Check out what seem to be ducks to see if there are resting Western Grebes in the group. You never know what's in a group of birds sleeping or resting on the water.

Western Grebe (At Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve).

Western Grebe's Courtship Dance from YouTube


External Links and Resources


Animal Diversity Web: Aechmophorus occidentalis--Western Grebe


A very detailed and thorough article with photographs of the Western Grebe from Michigan State University.



All about Birds: Western Grebe

A detailed profile of the Western Grebe from Cornell University.




Bird Web from Washington State: Western Grebes

Good article on Western Grebes.







Article about male Western Grebes feeding the female in winter. Observed at Bolsa Chica in the 1980s by Long Beach professor Robert A. James, Jr.




Monterey County California Annotated Checklist: Clark's Grebe

Good pictures of a Clark's Grebe and one with both Western and Clark's. Helpful article.



Nocturnal Foraging of Western Grebes

Paper on nocturnal feeding habits of Western Grebes.


Great shot captured by young Alan Rich o a Western Grebe building its nest.





US Geological Survey: Western Grebe


Good article with some information not found on other sites.


Another Western Grebe's Courtship Dance from YouTube



Video




Western Grebe Courtship Video from MSN Encarta

Great Courtship video. Can be viewed in Broadband or dial up. This is the third courtship video for Western Grebes I have found.







Internet Bird Collection: Western Grebe

Short video of an adult Western Grebe.








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