An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, the Western Grebe
Dec 13, 2018 05:40PM
● By Paul Spear
This week's "Bird of the Week" is the Western Grebe (Aechmophorus Occidentalis), a large, elegant, black and white grebe. They breed in lakes and ponds across the American West, and winters primarily off the Pacific Coast. The very similar Clark's Grebe was long thought to be the same species. Both have a dramatic, choreographed courtship display, in which they rush along the water with their necks extended.
Western Grebes breed on freshwater lakes and marshes with extensive open water bordered by emergent vegetation. During winter they move to saltwater or brackish bays, estuaries, or sheltered sea coasts and are less frequently found on freshwater lakes or rivers.
Western Grebes eat mainly fish, catching them by diving in open water. They either spear prey or capture it with a forceps-like motion of the bill, taking larger prey items to the surface before swallowing. They also occasionally consume bottom-dwelling crustaceans and worms (polychaetes).
Their nest looks like a solid mound with a shallow depression for the eggs. It's built of plant
materials from the bottom up, on a submerged snag or floating in up to 10 feet of water and anchored to emergent or floating plants. Rarely the nest is built on land using small amounts of surrounding vegetation. The nest is most often built on floating vegetation hidden among emergent plants; Western Grebes occasionally nest in the open and rarely on land. Both sexes build the nest using material brought from underwater, found floating on the surface, or growing near the nest. Western Grebes often nest in colonies, with hundreds or even thousands on one lake.
The Western Grebe, like other grebes, spends almost all its time in water and is very awkward when on land. The legs are so far back on the body that walking is very difficult. Western
Grebes are adept swimmers and divers. Courtship happens entirely in the water, including a well-known display known as “rushing,” where two birds turn to one side, lunge forward in synchrony, their bodies completely out of the water, and race across the water side by side with their necks curved gracefully forward. Look for this beautiful bird in the Tijuana Estuary and Sloughs.
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