The Bird Book/Grebes

The Bird Book by Chester A. Reed
Grebes: Family Colymbidas


Grebes are birds having a dueklike body, but with pointed bills. Their feet, too, are unlike those of the Ducks, each toe having its separate web, and having a broad flat nail. Their wings are very small for the size of the body, making it impossible for them to rise an flight from the land. They rise from the water by running a few yards along the surface until they have secured sufficient headway to allow them to launch themselves into the air. After having risen from the water their flight is very swift and strong. On land they are very awkward and can only progress by a series of awkward hops; they generally lie flat on their breasts, but occasionally, stand up, supporting them- selves upon their whole tarsus. Grebes, together with the Loons, are the most expert aquatic birds that we have, diving like a flash and swimming for an in- credible distance under water.

1. WESTERN GREBE. Aechnophorus occidentalis Range — Western parts of North America, from southern Alaska southward; east to Minnesota and south in winter to the southern parts of the United States and Mexico. Breeds from the Da- kotas and northern California northward. These are the largest of the American Grebes ; owing to their unusually long necks, they are frequently called "Swan Grebes." They are very timid birds and conceal themselves in the rushes on the least suspicion of danger. At times, to escape observation, they will entirely submerge their body, leaving only their head and part of the long neck visible above the water. This Grebe cannot be mistaken for any other because of the long slender neck and the long pointed bill, which has a slight upward turn. They nest abun- dantly in the marshes of North Dakota and central Canada. Their nests are made of decayed rushes, and are built over the water, being fastened to the rushes so that the bottom of the nest rests in the water. The nesting season is at its height during the latter part of May. They lay from Western Grebe three to five eggs, the ground color of which is a pale blue; this color is, however, always concealed by a thin chalky deposit, and this latter is frequently stained to a dirty white. Size 2.40 x 1.55.

2. HOLBOELI/S GREBE. Colymbus holboellii.

Range. Throughout North America, breeding from northern United States northward and wintering from the middle to the southern portions of the United States.

In regard to size this Grebe comes next to the Western, being 19 in. in length. This bird can be distinguished by the white cheeks and throat and the reddish brown fore-neck. They breed abundantly in the far north placing their floating islands of decayed vegetation in the water in the midst of the marsh grass. They lay from three to six eggs of a dingy white color which have the stained surface common to Grebes eggs. Size 2.35 x 1.25.

3. HORNED GREBE. Colymbus auritus.

Range. The whole of North America, breeding in the interior from North Dakota northwest; winters along the Gulf Coast. This species is one of the most beautiful of the Grebes, having in the breeding season buffy ear tufts, black cheeks and throat, and chestnut neck, breast and sides. They breed abundantly in the marshy flats of North Dakota and the interior of Canada.

They build a typical Grebe's nest, a floating mass of decayed matter which stains the naturally white eggs to a dirty brown. The number of eggs varies from three to seven. Size 1.70 x 1.15.

Range. North America west of the Mississippi, breeding from Texas to Manitoba and wintering along the Pacific Coast of the United States and from Texas southward.

Eared Grebes differ from the preceding in haying the entire neck blackish. They nest very abundantly throughout the west, in favorable localities, from Texas to Minnesota and Dakota. Their nests are constructed in the same manner as the preceding varieties and are located in similar localities. As do all the Grebes when leaving the nest, they cover the eggs with the damp rushes from around the base of the nest. This is probably for the purpose of assisting incubation during their absence, by the action "of the sun's rays on the wet mass. As they are nearly always thus covered upon the approach of anyone, this may be done also as a protection from discovery. They lay from three to eight bluish white eggs with the , usual chalky and discolored appearance. The breeding season is at its height early in June, or earlier, in the southern portion of its range. Size 1.75 x 1.20. Data. Artesian, S. Dakota, June 21, 1899. Nest of rushes, floating in three feet of water. Large colony in a small lake. Collector, F. A. Patton.

5. MEXICAN GREBE. Coif) nib us dominicus brachypterus.

Range. Southern Texas and Lower California southward to South America, breeding throughout its range.

The Least Grebe is by far the smallest of the Grebes in this country, being but 10 in. in length; it can not be mistaken for any other, the Eared Grebe being the only species of this family found in the same localities during the summer. These little Grebes nest very abundantly along the Rio Grande

Deep huff or rich brown

Valley in Texas, the nesting season lasting from the latter part of May until well into December.

Their nests are floating piles of grass and weeds upon which they lay from three to five chalky white eggs, which are always discolored, sometimes to a deep chocolate hue. These eggs average a great deal darker in color than do any of the other Grebes. In a series of fifty sets fully half were a rich brown tint. Sl:;e 1.40 x .95.

6. PIED-BILLED GREBE. Podilymbus


Range. From the British provinces southward to Argentine Republic, breeding locally throughout the northern portions of its range.

The Dabchick, as this bird is called, is the most evenly distributed bird of this family. It is nowhere especially abundant, nor is it, except in a very

Mexican Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

few localities, regarded as rare. Consequently the species. They do not congregate in such Grebes during the nesting season, but one or more pairs may be found in almost any favorable locality. These birds render their floating nest a little more substantial than those of the preceding varieties by the addition of mud which they bring up from the bottom of the pond; this addition also tends to soil the eggs more, consequently the eggs of this bird are, as a general rule, browner than the other Grebes with the exception of the Least. The bird may always be known by the shape of its bill which is higher than it is broad, and in the summer is white with a black band across the middle.

it is the best known bird of large numbers as the other

Deep buff The throat is also black at

this season. They lay from five to nine eggs commencing about the middle of May. Size 1.70 x 1.18.