The Pied-Billed Grebe
March 14, 2018
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061
The Pied-Billed Grebe

Grebe (Photo by David Cloud)

Grebes float on water like ducks and have the general appearance of small ducks, but they are diving birds. Well are they called “part bird, part submarine.”

They have many features which enable them to be expert diver hunters. For one, their feet are located near their rear ends, which helps them propel themselves under water. (The Latin genus for “grebe” (
podiceps) means “feet at the buttocks.”) Their feet are lobed rather than webbed like a duck’s, further assisting with swimming. They can trap water in their feathers to control their buoyancy, enabling them to dive deeply or stay just beneath the surface. They can stay submerged with just their eyes and nostrils above the surface. They can dive out of sight amazingly fast when alarmed.

The pied-billed grebe (
Podilymbus podiceps) is so named for the black stripe on its beak. It is also called a dabchick or a dipper. It is a small bird, 12-15 inches long with a wingspan of 18-24 inches. It is various shades of brown, has black eyes surrounded by a white circle and a white bill, which turns silver in the summer. Its breast is speckled with gray and it has a white patch on its undertail.

Its stout pointed beak and strong jaws enable it to kill and eat large crustaceans along with a great variety of fish, amphibians, and insects. It has a special love for crayfish, but it will eat crabs, shrimp, snails, mussels, beetles, dragonfly nymphs, salamanders, leeches, frogs, tadpoles, and any type of small fish.

It makes “bizarre whinnying, gobbling, cooing noises.”

It spends most of its time in the water, rarely flying.

It even builds a floating bowl-shaped nest using materials from aquatic vegetation. The nest is anchored to standing vegetation. The male and the female both participate in selecting the site and building the nest. They favor a location with water deeper than nine inches so they can approach the nest underwater, feed nearby, as well as escape predators. The male and female also participate in incubating the eggs. The chicks leave the nest the first day after hatching and can already swim but not very well. They spend much of the first one to four weeks riding on their parents’ backs. They sleep like this and even stay on their backs during underwater dives.

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