Hey guys, welcome back! Today is our first grebe species. But, just what the heck is a grebe? They kinda look like if a duck crossed with a heron, and the offspring had the most awkward features of both. Grebes are currently in their own taxonomic order, though their place within bird taxonomy has been debated for decades. Currently, they are grouped most closely with flamingoes of all things. One thing that seems conclusive is that grebes are an ancient lineage, potentially having ancestors from the cretaceous period! Though they swim and dive like a duck might, they do not have webbed feet. Instead, they have lobed toes, like the American Coot from a previous post. They also swim kind of more like frogs than ducks. All around, grebes are strange little birds.
The Pied-billed Grebe is the most common grebe species in the U.S. They’re also the smallest. You probably won’t have too much trouble finding one. They’re small birds with a very distinct silhouette, as seen in the photos accompanying this post. They are less colorful than the other North American grebe species, and are primarily brown. They do have a black throat, and a short, thick light grey bill with a black stripe around it. In Central Park, I’d always see a few every winter on the Reservoir. Here in St. Louis, I’ve seen them on a number of waterbodies in Forest Park. Always cool to see these little weirdos.
Grebes, including the Pied-billed have an interesting trait. They eat their own feathers. It’s believed that they help protect the stomach and intestines from hard pieces of their prey, such as shells and bone. They also have the ability to trap water in their plumage, making them able to control their buoyancy. Strange little birds with some interesting, and cool abilities for sure! Seeing these little guys was always a sign that winter was right around the corner. They’re always a welcome little surprise amongst all the ducks. Join me next time when I’ll discuss another bird that kind of sort of looks like a duck, but isn’t; the Double-crested Cormorant! See you all then!