Skip to main content

Dig Imperial Beach

Bryan Brillhart Photography Presents “Dig Imperial Beach” Bird of the Week, the “Pied-Billed Grebe"

Jan 25, 2016 09:42PM ● By Paul Spear

Bryan Brillhart of Bryan Brillhart Photography presents us with the “Bird of the Week”.  This week’s bird is the “Pied-Billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)". The column will provide a picture of a bird(s) locally photographed and we will have background on the bird.

If you would like to see more of Bryan's Bird Photos you can click on this link:

Bryan Brillhart Photography

“Dig Imperial Beach” Bird of the Week, the Pied-Billed Grebe

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), the most widespread grebe in the New World, and the most familiar in most temperate parts of North America. They are still common, but surveys show declines in recent decades. Far less sociable than most grebes, they almost never in flock, and are sometimes found singly on small marshy ponds. When disturbed or suspicious, they may sink slowly until only their head is above water. They are rarely seen in flight.

Pied-billed grebe habitat includes ponds, lakes, marshes, and in winter, also salt bays. In breeding season, they choose sites with heavy marsh vegetation but with some open water also. In migration and winter, they are still most likely seen on marshy freshwater ponds, but also on more open waters, including estuaries and coastal bays.

They forage by diving from the surface and swimming underwater, propelled mainly by feet. They make a slow dive frequently, especially when in danger, diving to about 20 feet. They dive for about 30 seconds and may move to a more secluded area of the water, allowing only the head to be visible to watch the danger dissipate.Their diet includes insects, fish, other aquatic life. Diet is highly variable with location and season, probably eating mostly small aquatic creatures in its habitat. Major food items include aquatic insects, crustaceans, small fish, leeches, and also mollusks, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, spiders, and small amounts of aquatic plants. Like other grebes, they swallow many feathers, and feed feathers to their young.

Often secretive in the breeding season, they hide in marshes, making bizarre whinnying, gobbling, and cooing noises by day or night. Where climate allows, they may have a long breeding season, from early spring to mid-autumn. Courtship displays are less ritualized than in most grebes, involving much calling, sometimes in duet. Nest sites are in shallow water in marshes, next to an opening so that birds can approach their nests underwater. Nests are built by both sexes, which are a dense mass of plant material, floating or built up from the bottom, and anchored to standing vegetation.

 After mating females lay 4-7, rarely 2-10 pale bluish white, becoming stained brownish eggs. Incubation is by both sexes, but females do more, for about 23 days. Eggs are covered with nest material when incubating birds depart. Young can swim soon after hatching. Young are fed by both parents, often riding on their parents' backs when small, and adults may swim underwater with young on their back. Age at first flight is not well known. They may have one or two broods per year, possibly more in the south.

I have recently seen a few of this species swimming along the banks of the river in the Tijuana Estuary. It is fun to see them diving and emerging often a great distance from their initial descent. Get out and enjoy all that Imperial Beach has to offer. Til next week, good birding!


Bryan Brillhart

the beach



Recent photos




Show details

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Dig Imperial Beach's free newsletter to catch every headline