Breeding Adult Pie-billed Grebe by Walter Siegmund, Wikimedia Commons
The Pied-billed Grebe is the most widespread of the grebes. It is a duck- like bird with a squat, robust build. Pied-billed Grebes are dark brown on top and to the sides with a tawny brown underbelly. These chunky birds have virtually no tail. It has a short neck and small head with a very thick bill. In the breeding season, the bill turns from a dull white to a bright white with a black ring, giving this bird its namesake “pied” appearance. Juveniles have a striped face.
The Pied-billed Grebe can be found throughout most of North America, south of the arctic ring. Pied-billed Grebes can be found year round in Maryland. In addition, Pied-billed Grebes can be found in northern and southern South America. Pied-billed Grebes are poor fliers and will rarely migrate long distances.
Pied-billed Grebes, like other grebes and coots, live in marshy wetlands and salt plains. They need and use sedges, rushes, and reeds in nest construction while spending almost all of their time on the water, rarely moving onto land. Pied-billed Grebes can be found virtually anywhere in the continental United States that contains slow moving fresh or brackish water.
Pied-billed Grebes typically feed on small fish, insects, and crustaceans. These birds are opportunistic feeders and will often consume available foods. In some areas, Pied-billed Grebes will prey on salamanders and leeches!
Non-breeding Pie-Bald Grebe, courtesy of Dick Daniels, Wikimedia Commons
Pied-billed Grebes construct floating nests from sedges and reeds in their habitat, usually anchoring the nest to floating vegetation or to lily pads. Both parents are involved with nest construction and will continually maintain and update the needs of the nest. Nest construction generally takes 3-5 days.
The breeding pair is monogamous, and the female will lay one or two clutches of 2 to 10 eggs. Incubation lasts 23 to 27 days after which the chicks will hatch and will be reared for a few days until they can forage for themselves. Chicks tend to spend their first week after hatching riding on their parent’s backs. The following two weeks are often spent on or around the nest platform.
Pied-billed grebes make an odd gobbling "kuh-kuh-kuh-kowp,kuh-kowp."
To avoid predators, Pied-billed Grebes “belly flop” into the water, making a splash. Pied-billed Grebes also can dive head first or can sink out of view. If the parents have young, then they will dive with the young pinned under their wings. Occasionally, a chick will accidentally pop out. Sometimes, Pied-billed Grebes will also submerge themselves, with just the eyes and nostrils exposed above the surface, similar to a crocodile.
During the breeding season, adult Pied-billed Grebes are very territorial and will chase and attack other birds, often from underwater. While courting, adults will raise their breasts partly out of the water, jerk their heads toward each other and will perform pirouettes. Another display involves an adult racing just beneath the water surface, creating a small ripple effect.
Pied-billed Grebes are superb swimmers; they are often only seen with their head above water almost like a submarine with its periscope up. The word “grebe” translates to “feet at the buttocks” which fits the description for grebe’s foot placement!
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