Western Grebe Feeding Young

by Larry Jordan on October 26, 2009

Common Mergansers Skimming the Water at Clear Lake photos by Larry Jordan

I had a photo blind reserved this weekend at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and a California Audubon Council meeting to attend on Saturday, so I made a weekend of it.  The council meeting was held in Ukiah, hosted by the good folks of the Peregrine Audubon Society.  It turned out to be an excellent meeting with great information on conservation education and getting youngsters interested in nature at an early age.  What better way to help our environment for future generations than to raise our children to respect nature and our planet.

Great Egrets Flying Overhead

I stopped for a driving break at Clear Lake on the way to Ukiah were I watched as female Common Mergansers raced across the water with the young from their summer hatch.    Mergansers are easily identifiable in flight by their bill, head, neck and body forming a straight horizontal line and as a fish eating, top predator in aquatic food chains, they are an indicator of the environmental health of lakes and rivers.

On the way back to Willows, after the meeting, I stopped at Clear Lake again to revisit the Western and Clark’s Grebes I saw on the way in.  They were busy feeding their young and I sat for quite a while watching the boisterous chicks coax their parents into feeding them.  This is a Clark’s Grebe with it’s orange-yellow bill and eye surrounded by white.

Until 1985, Clark’s Grebe was considered a pale morph of the Western Grebe, now they are a separate species, even though their behavior and renowned courtship rituals are nearly identical.  Here is the Clark’s Grebe with it’s chick begging to be fed, followed by a video of a pair of Western Grebes doing their courting dance.

Notice in the close-ups of the pair, at the end of the video, that the Western Grebe’s black cap extends below the eye and their bill is kind of a greenish yellow with a dark ridge.

I thought this behavior of the adult sticking its foot out stiffly behind it was rather odd too, until I discovered that the chicks are brooded on the parents backs and they stick their leg back similar to this as a foothold to help the young chicks get back up after being dislodged.

But my favorite activity this afternoon was watching this Western Grebe feeding its insatiable young one.  That little grebe must have consumed over a dozen fish in the short time I was watching.  The parent would dive down and stay underwater for what seemed like a long time, popping up in an unknown place causing the chick to swim as fast as it could, vocalizing the entire way, until reaching the prize fish.  Then there was the hand off and the process repeated (click on these for full size photos).

As I was leaving Clear Lake, passing by all the docks, I had to stop to grab a shot of a  Snowy Egret that was silhouetted against the sparkling lake  sitting on a railing with three Great Egrets and what appeared to be a Brewer’s Blackbird.

Near the end of a great day with fellow birders and looking forward to more birds of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in my next post.  Go see the other great photos at Bird Photography Weekly and the ginormous 66 blog carnival at Walk The Wilderness for IATB #112, hosted by my friend Thomas.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Mick October 26, 2009 at 8:49 pm

Those are really great photos. I especially like the series of the adult feeding the juvenile.
.-= Mick´s last blog ..Oystercatchers and Gulls =-.


Neil October 26, 2009 at 10:42 pm

Great photos love the head of the grebe’s not quite a bad hair day.
.-= Neil´s last blog ..Australian King Parrot =-.


Amber Coakley October 26, 2009 at 11:22 pm

Hi Larry,
I’m still up in the wee hours of the morning, but just had to drop by for a quick visit to see what you’ve been up to. It sounds like your meeting was much like the one I’ve just returned from in Texas (TX Master Naturalists Annual Mtg). Good Stuff.

Those shots of the Grebe family are wonderful! I’ve never seen these birds first-hand – they are so striking! I am continually impressed with the variety and beauty we can find if we just take the time to look. So much to see, so little time. I sure enjoyed a quick trip to CA, thanks to your post.

.-= Amber Coakley´s last blog ..Road Trip – Riverside, MO =-.


eileen October 27, 2009 at 1:27 am

I love your Grebe photos, you got some great closeups.
.-= eileen´s last blog ..Bird Photography Weekly # 61 =-.


Wren October 27, 2009 at 3:15 am

Larry, these are wonderful! The photos could stand on their own, but you tell a wonderful story as well. I had no idea there were so many great birds near Sacramento, but I bet you find great birds everywhere.
.-= Wren´s last blog ..What’s in your pocket? (My World) =-.


Frank Kratofil October 27, 2009 at 6:12 am

Great work Larry. Love the behavior shots. Great work


ramblingwoods October 27, 2009 at 7:58 am

I follow you in my reader Larry..but had to say what a great post. I love grebes but didn’t know much about them…loved this… Michelle


chris October 27, 2009 at 9:47 am

Hi Larry.
I’m stunned!! Man, this is a splendid post full of gorgeous shots of grebes… But when I watch the movie, I was just… wordless… This is a splendid one and I would like to see such a behavior… Thanks to you and your movie, I could watch it here, seating in my living room in Iceland… Awesome!!
.-= chris´s last blog ..Common wren and redpolls in….Gufunes =-.


Nicole October 27, 2009 at 8:45 pm

WOW, you got some really beautiful shots again.
My Favs are the feeding pics and that Snowy Egret.
He looks so majestic sitting there. Like nothing can irritate him 🙂
.-= Nicole´s last blog ..Osprey, Fischadler, Pandion haliaetus =-.


Larry October 30, 2009 at 6:23 am

@Mick they sure were fun to watch

@Neil I should have put in a straight on shot of the grebe to get the full affect. The photo just before the video shows the Groucho Marx style hairdew somewhat

@Amber it’s great to get together with an accomplished group of people doing something about the environment and conservation. It gives you that deep down “feel good” feeling. And yes, some much to see and do and so little time it seems 😉

@Eileen thanks a bunch

@Wren thank you for those kind words. Like Amber said, “I am continually impressed with the variety and beauty we can find if we just take the time to look.” I am constantly looking 🙂

@Frank thank you so much for stopping by with that comment. It means a lot to me coming from an excellent photographer like yourself

@Michelle thank you for following me and for your comment

@Chris thank you. I bet it’s getting a bit cold up there about now? I have not seen the courting behavior either but will be looking for it next spring.

@Nicole thanks. That Snowy didn’t have a care in the world 🙂


Madah October 30, 2009 at 11:35 pm

Great pics Larry! I like the pic of them tugging at the fish!


Ambika November 1, 2009 at 4:49 am

Delightful series Larry…loved the leg sticking out pic!

And the egret so serene.
.-= Ambika´s last blog ..Pallikaranai picture parade =-.


NatureFotostep Fåglar/Birds November 1, 2009 at 3:44 pm

so many beautiful birds. Grebes are ne of my favourites.
.-= NatureFotostep Fåglar/Birds´s last blog ..BPW 62 Jag fick dig – I got you =-.


Dawn Fine November 10, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Awesome post Larry! I am trying to catch up with blog reading..so far behind and getting behinder..
Glad I decided to read this post..Beautiful photos.
.-= Dawn Fine´s last blog ..Bay Beaching =-.


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