Birds – Dabchicks

The Grebes are practically cosmopolitan in distribution. Of the twenty-five or thirty forms recognized, North America lays claim to six, South America to nine, Europe to five, etc. There is some difference of opinion as to the number of genera that should be recognized, but according to recent authority it is perhaps advisable to recognize seven, of which Podicipes with fifteen species is the largest. Of these one of the best known is the Little Grebe, or Dab-chick ( P. Fluviatilis) of central and southern Europe, whence it ranges westward into central Asia and even reaches Japan. It is only about nine and one half inches long and has the head, neck, and upper parts dark brown, the chin black, the cheek, throat, and sides of the neck reddish chestnut, and the under parts grayish white, while the bill is horn-color and the legs and feet dull green. It is a common and well known bird throughout the British Islands, frequenting in summer the lakes and ponds, but in winter resorting to the rivers and larger bodies of water, and in very severe weather to the seacoast. It begins to breed toward the end of April or early in May, making the usual floating nest among the reeds. “The Dabchick,” says Mr. Hudson, “has the curious habit of holding its young under its wing and diving from the nest, to take them out of danger.” Two broods are frequently reared in a season, one bird caring for the numbers of the first brood while the other parent is incubating the second set of eggs. There are three or four species closely allied to the above, one of which (P. Philippinensis) ranges from southern China through Formosa and the Burmese Provinces to the Philippine Islands and Borneo, another (P. capensis) from tropical Africa and Madagascar to Persia and the Indian peninsula, while the third (P. Tricolor) is found from Borneo to Celebes and New Guinea. Still another is a peculiar whitish species (P. Albescens) of Native Sikhim, North India, which is only seven and one half inches long. Other species are P. Pelzelni of Madagascar, P. Novae-hollandiae of Java, New Guinea, and Australia, P. poliocephalus of Australia and Tasmania, and P. dominicus, the St. Domingo Grebe of tropical America in general, but ranging north to southern Texas and southern California. This species is about nine inches long, dusky brown above, with head and neck dark grayish or lead-colored, the throat and chin dull black and the under parts white, while the bill is deep black, paler at the tip, the iris orange, and the legs and feet blackish. It frequents fresh-water ponds and lakelets as well as salt-water marshes. Another New Zealand species, also known as the Dabchick or Totokipo (P. Rufipectus), is blackish brown above, finely streaked with white on the head, the throat brown, the breast rufous, and the abdomen white. Like the other members of the group, it dives with amazing agility; but according to Buller, it flies with difficulty, and only for a short distance, skimming the surface with a very labored flapping of its little wings. The five remaining species of the genus are all South American.