- ORDER: Podicipediformes
- FAMILY: Podicipedidae
Setting off crisp black-and-white plumage with a yellow bill and red eye, the slender Western Grebe is an elegant presence on lakes and ocean coasts of western North America. Along with its close relative, the Clark’s Grebe, it’s renowned for a ballet-like courtship display in which male and female “run” across the water in synchrony, their long necks curved in an S-shape. These waterbirds rarely come ashore, instead taking long dives to catch fish and other aquatic animals.More ID Info
Find This Bird
In summer, look for Western Grebes on relatively deep inland lakes with marshy edges. For instance, Klamath Lake, Oregon, hosts dozens of breeding pairs (as well as Clark’s Grebes). In the nonbreeding season most Western Grebes migrate to the Pacific Coast (although some remain on inland lakes). They stay fairly close to shore, making it easy to get good views of this handsome grebe, especially if you have access to a spotting scope.
- Achichilique Común (Spanish)
- Grèbe élégant (French)
- Cool Facts
- Western and Clark’s Grebes were considered the same species until 1985, after scientists learned that the two species rarely interbreed (despite sometimes living on the same lakes), make different calls, and have substantial DNA differences.
- Male Western Grebes generally have longer and thicker bills than females. The difference may permit males and females to feed on different-sized prey, reducing food competition between the sexes.
- Western Grebe plumage is very dense and waterproof. In the nineteenth century the birds were hunted and their hides used to make coats, capes, and hats that cost as much as luxury items made from mammal pelts. In some areas, grebe populations crashed or even disappeared altogether. In time, the garments went out of fashion, sparing this species (and Clark’s Grebe) further losses.
- Western Grebes, along with other grebe species, often swallow their own feathers as they preen. These feathers wind up lining the stomach, where they may help protect against punctures by sharp fish bones. They periodically regurgitate pellets containing the feathers along with bones and other indigestible material.
- The oldest recorded Western Grebe was a female and at least 11 years old when she was found in Minnesota, where she had been banded.