Grebes are a worldwide family of aquatic diving birds with lobed toes, making them strong swimmers. There are 22 species of Grebe found across the world with 6 of those being found here in Alberta. Grebes are very clumsy on land and therefore spend most of their time on the water, staying there to feed, sleep and court. One of the oldest living family of birds, they can dive down 6m below the surface and can remain submerged for up to 30 seconds, where they search for small fish, aquatic insects and crustaceans to eat.
Of the 6 species of Grebes that live in Alberta, 5 of these can be seen in the Calgary region; above is the Horned Grebe, an attractive grebe that may be seen in Calgary on the Mckenzie Towne Ponds, which is where I saw this one last week.
Similar to the Horned Grebe is the Eared Grebe which can be distinguished from its close relative by its yellow feathered “ears” instead of compact “horns”. I find that one of the best places to see Eared Grebes is at Frank Lake, near High River.
The Western Grebe, together with Clark’s Grebe (which is only seen in the far south of Alberta), is a very large grebe. Below, is a procession of birds; from left to right; first is an Eared Grebe, then a Western Grebe, followed by another Eared Grebe and another Western Grebe. After that is a Franklin’s Gull and an Eared Grebe bringing up the rear.
The Pied-billed Grebe is the most common grebe in North America; it is also very intelligent. When apprehensive, the Pied-billed Grebe will sink slowly, expelling air from the body and feathers to lower their gravity, then they will swim with only their head above the water, facilitating an escape if need be. The adult Pied-billed Grebe is similar to the juvenile (juvenile below), except it will have uniformly colored cheeks and a black ring on its beak.
The last Grebe that can be seen in Alberta is the Red-necked Grebe, a large noisy bird with a broad black crown, white cheek patches and chestnut neck.
Grebes are a very varied family of birds and all are beautiful; makes sense when you find out that they are related to loons; a family of birds that amaze many people!
Posted by Matthew Sim