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    Pied-billed Grebe Life History

    Habitat

    Habitat Lakes and PondsPied-billed Grebes live on bodies of flat or sluggish, fresh to slightly brackish water, at altitudes from sea level to about 8,000 feet. They forage in open water but construct their floating nests using materials and anchors of aquatic vegetation and/or dense stands of emergent vegetation—plants that root underwater with leaves and stems that extend into air. Habitat types include freshwater wetlands, wet fields, bays, sloughs, marshes, lakes, slow-moving rivers, and even sewage ponds. Pied-billed Grebes can nest in moderately to heavily populated areas. They occupy similar habitats during migration and winter.Back to top

    Food

    Food Aquatic invertebratesPied-billed Grebes eat mostly crustaceans (particularly crayfish) and small fish, which they capture and crush with their stout bills and strong jaws. Overall, these opportunistic feeders consume a great variety of prey items, large and small, depending on what’s available. Collecting most of their food underwater during foraging dives, they eat crabs, shrimp, snails, mussels, beetles, dragonfly nymphs, and aquatic insects and their larvae. In some parts of their range, Pied-billed Grebes go after leeches, frogs and tadpoles. Among this grebe’s most common fish prey are carp, minnows, catfish, sculpins, killifish, sticklebacks, gizzard shad, and sunfishes. Pied-billed Grebes in the fishless wetlands of Manitoba kill and eat tiger salamanders.Back to top

    Nesting

    Nest Placement

    Nest FloatingPied-billed Grebes typically situate their nests among tall emergent vegetation; sometimes they nest among lower-growing plants. Both male and female may take part in selecting the site, favoring locations with water deeper than about 9 inches, which allows for escape, feeding, and nest platform construction.

    Nest Description

    Like other grebes, the Pied-billed Grebe creates an open bowl nest on a platform of floating vegetation. The crude circular platform may be placed atop a lily leaf or built up from buoyant material, such as the stems of bulrushes and water lilies. Other added material may include Eurasian water-milfoil, sago pondweed, stonewort, cattails, and small sticks. Both sexes build the nest, and can construct a platform that will support an egg in as little as 1 day. Construction normally starts 3 to 5 days before egg-laying and continues during and after laying. The birds collect soft, flexible, fresh or partly decomposed plant material from beneath the water and clip off stiffer material near the surface. The nest bowl is 4–5 inches in diameter and about an inch deep, and may be expanded during egg-laying period to accommodate additional eggs.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:2-10 eggs
    Number of Broods:1-2 broods
    Egg Length:1.5-2.0 in (3.8-5 cm)
    Egg Width:1.1-1.3 in (2.7-3.2 cm)
    Incubation Period:23-27 days
    Egg Description:Bluish white to greenish white, rarely turquoise, and unmarked.
    Condition at Hatching:Downy and active, the chicks leave the nest soon after hatching and climb onto the adult's back where they are brooded during their first week of life.
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    Behavior

    Behavior Surface DivePied-billed Grebes forage in water among aquatic plants and beneath mats of floating vegetation. They usually dive for food, but occasionally pluck insects from foliage, the water’s surface, or the air. They sometimes feed near moving herons and egrets. Pied-billed Grebes escape danger by “crash-diving”—plunging with head and tail raised above the belly, making a splash. They can also dive head first, or simply sink quietly out of view, leaving no trace. Parents dive with young clamped under their wings; occasionally a chick accidentally pops out. These grebes often avoid danger by submerging, crocodile-style, with just the eyes and nostrils above the surface. During breeding season, adult Pied-billed Grebes (especially males) chase and attack members of their own species as well as other waterbirds, often attacking from underwater. Courting adults raise their breasts partially out of the water, jerk their heads toward each other and perform pirouettes. In another courtship ceremony, one adult races along just beneath the surface, creating ripples that trace its underwater path. Pied-billed Grebes need a long running-flapping start to take off from water.Back to top

    Conservation

    Conservation Low ConcernPied-billed Grebes are widespread and fairly common in most of the U.S. and southern Canada, and overall, populations were stable between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. However, the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan rates the continental population a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and lists it as a Species of High Concern. Pied-billed Grebe is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. You should not have too much trouble finding these birds, particularly in summer on larger ponds and smaller lakes with ample emergent vegetation, such as cattails and bulrushes. Particularly watch the edges of emergent vegetation and look for roughly circular masses of floating, dead vegetation that might be Pied-billed Grebe nests. In winter, look for the species on larger water bodies where it often aggregates into small flocks. The distinctive very small body and comparatively large, blocky head is a good shape to look for. These birds spend a lot of time diving, so make several scans of a body of water before moving on. Back to top

    Credits

    Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Kushlan, J. A., M. J. Steinkamp, K. C. Parsons, J. Capp, M. A. Cruz, M. Coulter, I. Davidson, L. Dickson, N. Edelson, R. Elliott, R. M. Erwin, S. Hatch, S. Kress, R. Milko, S. Miller, K. Mills, R. Paul, R. Phillips, J. E. Saliva, W. Sydeman, J. Trapp, J. Wheeler and K. Wohl. 2002. Waterbird conservation for the Americas: The North American waterbird conservation plan, version 1. Washington, D.C.: Waterbird Conservation for the Americas.

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    Muller, Martin J. and Robert W. Storer. 1999. Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

    Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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