Birds – Holbcell’s Grebe

(Colymbus holboellii)

Called also : RED-NECKED GREBE

Length—About 19 inches. Largest of the common grebes.

Male and Female—In summer: Upper parts dusky; top of head, small crest, and nape of neck glossy black; throat and cheeks ashy; neck rich chestnut red, changing gradually over the smooth, satiny breast to silvery white or gray dappled under parts; sides also show chestnut tinge. In winter: Crests scarcely perceptible; upper parts blackish brown; ashy tint of cheeks and throat replaced by pure white; under parts ashy, the mottling less conspicuous than in summer. Red of neck replaced by variable shades of reddish brown, from quite dark to nearly white. Elongated toes furnished with broad lobes of skin.

Young—Upper parts blackish; neck and sides grayish; throat and under parts silvery white. Head marked with stripes.

Range—Interior of North America from Great Slave Lake to South Carolina and Nebraska. Breeds from Minnesota northward, and migrates southward in winter.

Season—Irregular migrant and winter visitor.

The American, red-necked grebe, a larger variety of the European species, keeps so closely within the lines of family traditions that a description of it might very well serve as a composite portrait of its clan. Six members of this cosmopolitan family, numbering in all about thirty species, are found in North America; the others are distributed over the lakes and rivers of all parts of the world that are neither excessively hot nor cold.

On the border of some reedy pond or sluggish stream, in a floating mass of water-soaked, decaying vegetation that serves as a nest, the red-necked grebe emerges from its dull white egg and instantly takes to water. Cradled on the water, nourished by the wild grain, vegetable matter, small fish, tadpoles, and insects the water supplies, sleeping while afloat, diving to pursue fish and escape danger, spending, in fact, its entire time in or about the water, the grebe appears to be more truly a water-fowl than any of our birds. On land, where it almost never ventures, it is ungainly and uncomfortable, in the water it is marvelously graceful and expert at swimming and diving; quick as a flash to drop out of sight, like a mass of lead, when danger threatens, and clever enough to remain under water while striking out for a safe harbor, with only its nostrils exposed above the surface. Ordinarily it makes a leap forward and a plunge head downward with its body in the air for its deep dives. The oily character of its plumage makes it impervious to moisture. Swimming is an art all grebes acquire the day they are hatched, but their more remark-able diving feats are mastered gradually. Far up north, where the nesting is done, one may see a mother bird floating about among the sedges with from two to five fledglings on her back, where they rest from their first natatorial efforts. By a twist of her neck she is able to thrust food down their gaping beaks with-out losing her balance or theirs. The male bird keeps within call, for grebes are devoted lovers and parents.

It is only in winter that we may meet with these birds in the United States, where their habits undergo slight changes. Here they are quite as apt to be seen near the sea picking up small fish and mollusks in the estuaries, as in the inland ponds and streams. During the migrations they are seen to fly rapidly, in spite of their short wings and heavy bodies, and with their heads and feet stretched so far apart that a grebe resembles nothing more than a flying projectile.