My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Red-necked Grebe, Podiceps grisegena

Note: this post, while published, is a work in progress, as are all posts in this series, My Photo Life List. My goal is to photograph every species of bird that is seen on a regular basis here in Michigan, working from a list compiled by the Michigan chapter of the Audubon Society. This will be a lifelong project, that I began in January of 2013, and as I shoot better photos of this, or any other species, I will update the post for that species with better photos when I can. While this series is not intended to be a field guide per se, my minimum standard for the photos in this series is that one has to be able to make a positive identification of the species in my photos. The information posted here is from either my observations or the Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, however, I have personally shot all the photos appearing in this series.

Red-necked Grebe, Podiceps grisegena

 

The Red-necked Grebe is a migratory aquatic bird found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Its wintering habitat is largely restricted to calm waters just beyond the waves around ocean coasts, although some birds may winter on large lakes. Grebes prefer shallow bodies of fresh water such as lakes, marshes or fish-ponds as breeding sites.

The Red-necked Grebe is a nondescript dusky-grey bird in winter. During the breeding season, it acquires the distinctive red neck plumage, black cap and contrasting pale grey face from which its name was derived. It also has an elaborate courtship display and a variety of loud mating calls. Once paired, it builds a nest from water plants on top of floating vegetation in a shallow lake or bog.

Like all grebes, the Red-necked is a good swimmer, a particularly swift diver, and responds to danger by diving rather than flying. The feet are positioned far back on the body, near the tail, which makes the bird ungainly on land. It dives for fish or picks insects off vegetation; it also swallows its own feathers, possibly to protect the digestive system.

The Red-necked Grebe is a medium-large grebe, smaller than the Great Crested Grebe of Eurasia, and the Western and Clark’s Grebes of North America. The adult is 40–50 cm (16–20 in) long with a 77–85 cm (30–33 in) average wingspan, and weighs 692–925 g (24.4–32.6 oz). In breeding plumage, it has a black cap that extends below the eye, very pale grey cheeks and throat, a rusty red neck, dark grey back and flanks, and white underparts. The eyes are dark brown and the long, pointed bill is black with a yellow base.

The Red-necked Grebe flies with its long neck extended and its large feet trailing behind the body, which gives it a stretched-out appearance. The relatively small wings are grey with white secondaries, and beat very rapidly. Its small wing area means that the grebe is unable to take off from land, and needs a lengthy run across water to gain the speed needed for take-off. Like all grebes, the Red-necked is an expert swimmer; it uses its feet for propulsion underwater, and steers by rotating its legs, since its tail is too short for this purpose.

This is one of the most vocal grebes during the breeding season, but, like its relatives, it is mainly silent for the rest of the year. It has a loud, wailing or howling display call uooooh, given by a single bird or a pair in duet, by night or during the day, and often from cover. Long sequences of up to 60 consecutive notes may be delivered during singing encounters between rival territorial birds. A great variety of quacking, clucking, hissing, rattling and purring calls are also given, with much individual variation.

Breeding takes place in shallow freshwater lakes, bays of larger lakes, marshes, and other inland bodies of water, often less than 3 ha (7.4 acres) in extent and less than 2 m (6.6 ft) deep. The Red-necked Grebe shows a preference for waters in forested areas or, further north, in shrub tundra, and favours sites with abundant emergent vegetation, such as reed beds. The best breeding habitat is fish-ponds, which have an abundance of food in addition to meeting the other requirements. The American subspecies is less tied to a high aquatic plant density, and sometimes breeds on quite open lakes.

All populations are migratory and winter mainly at sea, usually in estuaries and bays, but often well offshore where fish are within diving reach near shallow banks or islands. The preferred passage and wintering habitat is water less than 15 m (49 ft) deep with a sand or gravel bottom, scattered rocks and patches of seaweed. During winter, birds typically feed alone and rarely aggregate into flocks, but on migration, concentrations of over 2000 individuals may occur at favored staging sites. Migration is usually at night, but may occur during the day, especially when over water. This is particularly noticeable in autumn on the Great Lakes, when up to 18,000 birds may pass Whitefish Point on Lake Superior; these are thought to be Canadian breeders heading for the Atlantic Ocean to winter. This easterly route is longer than that to the Pacific, but avoids the Rockies.

On the breeding grounds, the Red-necked Grebe feeds mainly on invertebrates including adult and larval aquatic insects, such as water beetles and dragonfly larvae, crayfish and molluscs. Fish (such as smelt) may be important locally or seasonally, especially for the American subspecies, and crustaceans can constitute up to 20% of the grebe’s diet. Birds breeding at the coast often make foraging flights to inland lakes or offshore areas to feed.

Aquatic prey is obtained by diving or by swimming on surface with the head submerged, and terrestrial insects and their larvae are picked off vegetation.

Like other grebes, the Red-necked Grebe ingests large quantities of its own feathers, which remain in the bird’s stomach. Feathers are not only swallowed by adults, mainly during self-preening, but are often fed to the young, sometimes within a day of hatching. These feathers soon decompose into a felt-like, amorphous mass. The function of the feathers in the stomach is unknown, although it has been suggested that they help to protect the lower digestive tract from bones and other hard, indigestible material.

On to my photos:

 

Red-necked grebe

Red-necked grebe

Red-necked grebes

Red-necked grebes

Red-necked Grebes

Red-necked Grebes

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

This is number 153 in my photo life list, only 197 to go!

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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9 responses

  1. Nice shots! When they came through our area I wasn’t able to get very close so my photos were more like data acquisition.

    April 15, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    • Thanks. The secret to how I got these photos is this. Break off a chunk of a loaf of French bread, start gnawing on it, when a coot sticks a snail to its beak, start shooting photos of the coot while you still have the chunk of bread held in you teeth, the red-necked grebes will swim closer to see what the heck is going on. True story, and it gives me an idea.

      April 15, 2014 at 1:27 pm

  2. But if you dropped some of the bread in the water wouldn’t the grebes come even faster?

    April 15, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    • I didn’t think of that, since grebes typically feed on insects or fish, besides, I’d have been swarmed by mallards and gulls if I had started throwing bread around. 😉

      April 15, 2014 at 2:01 pm

  3. Your method of enticing the grebe was funny. Interesting how many critters have a good dose of curiosity.

    April 15, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    • Thank you! If you don’t act like a predator, many critters are curious.

      April 15, 2014 at 3:15 pm

  4. A really informative post. I liked the sixth picture as it showed the grebe’s head and neck feather colours so clearly.

    April 15, 2014 at 7:22 pm

    • Thank you very much!

      April 16, 2014 at 1:58 am

      • You’re very welcome!

        April 16, 2014 at 4:12 pm