Birds of the World



  Jenkins Point



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Grebes, Flamingos
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All Grebes, Other Grebes
Pied-billed Grebe, Eared Grebe
  Order Podicipediformes - Grebes
Wiki     ToL     EoL
  Family Podicipedidae - Grebes
Wiki     ToL     EoL
  21 (19-22) species, 6 genera. Grebes occur on all continents (except Antarctica) and larger islands of the world (including Madagascar and New Zealand) in temperate and tropical aquatic habitats. Grebes typically live and winter in fresh water. A few (like the Horned Grebe) also winter on salt water estuaries along the coast.  Some have become flightless on large tropical lakes. They are most diverse in the New World.
   Many authors have assumed that Grebes are related to loons (hence their typical placement here). The Encyclopedia of Life places them in the Ciconiiformes. Sibley and Ahlquist (1990), also group them in their Order Ciconiiformes, an expanded taxon that includes the typical shorebirds (and gulls and terns) plus the diurnal birds of prey, totipalmate swimmers (pelicans and their relatives) and the typical ciconiiform birds (herons, egrets, ibises, etc.). Grebes are placed between the diurnal birds of prey and tropicbirds but have no close living relatives. Penguins, loons, and tube-nosed swimmers are placed at the end of this suborder by Sibley and Ahlquist (1990).
   In actuality, grebes are probably an ancient lineage and recent phylogenomic study suggests closer  relationships with flamingos than to any other group.
   Grebes are small to medium-sized, foot-propelled fresh-water divers (they don't use their wings under water). They are agile swimmers. When diving, they usually thrust their head forward and disappear with few ripples. They may also alter their buoyancy and just sink out of sight. They may swim with just their head out of water. They usually swim and dive to escape danger rather than flying.
   Their legs are set far back on the body, and they are relatively helpless on land (I've never seen a grebe out of the water). Their tarsi are compressed laterally for swimming (like loons). Their patella is large and pyramidal (but not fused to the tibia as in loons). All four toes bear large lateral lobes - not webs - which are broader on the inner side and are united basally. These lobes fold and trail the toes when the foot is moved forward and straighten to provide an expanded surface for the power stroke - something like "feathering" an oar. The hallux (first toe) is elevated. Their toe nails are flattened. They have a dense, waterproof plumage. Their coutour feathers attach at right angles to the skin with a curl at the tip, trapping a layer of air around the body. By varying the thickness of this layer, grebes can control their buoyancy. Their tail is rudimentary.
   Grebes are reluctant fliers - their wings are small and narrow - they prefer to swim. When taking off, they patter across the surface to gain flight speed. Note, however, that they do perform relatively extensive migrations. If they mistake wet pavement for water and land, they cannot take off without help.
   Grebes are small to medium-sized birds. They are generally dull in non-breeding plumages. Breeding plumage is brighter and some have lateral or crown crests. They may be relatively solitary but are often seen in small groups. Some form large feeding flocks at sites with abundant food.
   As marsh dwellers, grebes have loud calls used in communication. Listen for them in the cattail marsh on Jenkins Point where they almost certainly have bred in the past (the marsh is now largely covered by cattails)...
   Grebes are monogamous and pairs may remain together in the winter. Courtship may be elaborate with highly stereotyped and ritualized displays. Mates may swim close to each other, turning and nodding. They also perform a "weed dance" in which both birds dive and emerge with weeds which they feed each other. "Rushing" displays (Western Grebe) are highly stereotyped.
   Most grebes are territorial during the breeding season. They nest on rafts of aquatic plants and leaves floating or anchored to the bottom, and usually surrounded by fresh water (rarely on land). Both sexes participate in nest building. They lay 2-7 white, greenish, or bluish elongate eggs with a chalky surface that becomes stained brown. They are incubated by both parents for 20-28 days, beginning with the first or second egg. They have large median brood pouches.
   When leaving the nest, adults cover the eggs with nest material. Young are hatch with mature down (striped) all over the body. They have one nestling coat of down. They can swim and dive shortly after hatching and leave the nest (they are subprecocial and nidifugous). However, they depend on their parents for food, warmth, and protection  for a longer period  Young may ride on the backs of their parents. The chicks of some species have patches of bare skin on the head that become engorged with blood when they are begging. Older chicks are often divided between the parents for care as they grow (the family may remain together or it may separate). Young fledge in 44-79 days. Grebes mature at 1 or 2 years of age.  
   Their bill varies from long and pointed to stout and chicken-like. Their tongue is small with a single row of spinous processes. The hind process of their mandible is short or absent. They generally forage underwater, eating a variety of organisms. They usually feed on aquatic animals captured by diving and under-water pursuit. Smaller grebes usually take insects and aquatic invertebrates, larger ones eat more fish. They also eat crustaceans, tadpoles, salamanders, and small amounts of plant material. Fish-eating species (e.g. the  Horned Grebe) have long necks and bills; species that favor invertebrate prey have short necks and bills and have a rotund body (e.g. the Pied-billed Grebe). Grebes that eat fish swallow their own feathers (and feed them to their young) to trap fish bones. Pellets of feathers and bones are then regurgitated. Grebes that eat insects and crustaceans also regurgitate pellets containing skeletal elements.
   Grebes have 12 primaries (the outermost is minute), 15-21 secondaries, and their tail feathers are vestigial. The flight feathers are curved and fit closely to the body when the wings are folded. Their plumage is soft and fur-like - thick and waterproof - and they have mature down over all of the body. They have a simultaneous molt so, like loons and ducks, there is a period of flightlessness. They have 17-21 cervical vertebrae and their dorsal vertebrae are fused. They have only the left carotid artery. Their hypotarsus is complex with canals and grooves.
All Grebes:

   Little Grebe, Tachybaptus ruficollis. Europe, Middle East, Africa south of the Sahara, southern Asia,
      Taiwan, Japan, Philippines, New Guinea, Java, and the Solomon Islands.
   Australasian Grebe. Tachybaptus novaehollandiae. Melanesia, Australia and New Guinea to the
      Solomon Islands.
   Madagascar Grebe, Tachybaptus pelzelnii. Madagascar.
   Least Grebe, Tachybaptus dominicus. South Texas through Middle America and South America to
       southern Brazil and northern Argentina; the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and Virgin Islands.
   Pied-billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps. Alaska to Panama, Cuba, the Antilles, and northern South
       America to southern Argentina.
   White-tufted Grebe, Rollandia rolland. Andes and central Peru south to Tierra del Fuego and Cape
       Horn Archipellago and the Falkland Islands.
   Short--winged Grebe, Rollandia microptera. Andes of southern Peru and western Bolivia
       (Lake Titicaca)
   Hoary-headed Grebe, Poliocephalus poliocepalus. Australia, Tasmania, South Island (New Zealand).
   New Zealand Grebe, Poliocephalis rufopectus. North Island (New Zealand)
   Great Grebe, Podiceps major. Southern Brazil through Argentina and Chile to coastal Peru.
   Red-necked Grebe, Podiceps grisegena. Eurasia, North America, northeast Asia.
   Great Crested Grebe, Podiceps cristatus. Palearctic region, Afrotropical region, oriental region,
      Australia, Tasmania, and South Island (New Zealand).
   Horned Grebe, Podiceps auritus. Palaearctic region and North America.
   Eared Grebe, Podiceps nigricollis. Eurasia, Africa south of the Sahara, Canada to Mexico
      (western North America)
   Silvery Grebe, Podiceps occipitalis. Andes of Colombia to Chile and Argentina to Tierra del Fuego
      and the Falkland Islands.
   Junin Grebe, Podiceps taczanowskii. Andes, central Peru (Lake Junin).
   Hooded Grebe, Podiceps gallaardoi. Southwestern Argentina (western Santa Cruz).
   Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis. Western North America and Mexico.
   Clark's Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii. Western North America, coastal Mexico and Mexican plateau.
  Pied-billed Grebe Eared Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
SI Web Link

Eared Grebe,Podiceps nigricollis
Breeding. Pawnee National Grassland
Photo by Ed Konrad
Black-necked Grebe = Eared Grebe.
Non-breeding. Schinias Olympic Rowing and Canoeing Centre, Greece.
Photos by Ed Konrad. SI Web Link
  Order Phoenicopteriformes - Flamingos
There is increasing evidence that grebes and flamingos are sister-groups. The AOU Checklist currently places flamingos here, between grebes and tube-nosed swimmers, as a separate new order. Click here to to to their placement in this web.
Other Grebes

   If you travel to western Europe, look for the Great-crested Grebe, Podiceps cristatus. This is a large grebe with a slim bill and head plumes that can be raised and fanned or shaken in courtship displays. This species is relatively bold and occurs on open, unvegetated waters including bays, rivers, and canals. It is  common in Amsterdam and Northern Holland.
  Banner - Cattail marsh (freshwater), Jenkins Point. Seabrook.