Birds – The Grebes

As already stated the Grebes are much smaller birds than the Loons, few of them exceeding twenty inches in length, and many of them being under ten inches. By far the larger portion of their lives is spent in fresh-water lakes and ponds, but in winter and during the migrations they often resort to the sea. Like their relatives they are most expert divers, taking to wing with great reluctance and only when so hard pressed that they would otherwise be captured. They readily dive at the flash of a gun and before shot or bullet can reach them. Unlike many other water birds they do not employ the wings in swimming under water, but depend exclusively on the lobed feet for both diving and swimming. Their food consists of frogs, fish, mollusks, water insects, and occasionally seeds and bits of vegetation. The nest is a thick, matted platform of rushes and other aquatic plants, often procured by the birds by diving, and is usually floating on the water, being perhaps slightly anchored, often over deep water, to some rush or other aquatic plant. The eggs, two to five in number, and dull white or greenish white in color, are placed in a slight depression on the top of the floating mass, and are always damp and not infrequently hatched while partially covered with water. “When out of the shell the young has not far to walk; he looks a few moments over the edge of his water-drenched cradle and down he goes with the expertness of an old diver.” Ordinarily Grebes cannot be called gregarious, but frequently a few pairs build their nests close together. Thus Mr. Henshaw found upward of a dozen nests of the American Eared Grebe in a pond in southern Colorado, while Mr. Goss found fully a hundred pairs of the same species nesting in a little cove of Como Lake, Wyoming, and Mr. Seebohm records the finding of a dozen nests of the European Dabchick in an immense reed-bed near Danzig, Germany. After the full complement of eggs has been laid, the parent when leaving the nest, unless startled into leaving suddenly, carefully covers the eggs up with weeds and moss, entirely concealing them. As they are otherwise left exposed it is thought by Mr. Seebohm that the object is not so much for the purpose of hiding them as to protect them against cold ; other authorities, however, are strongly of the opinion that it is done purely for purposes of concealment against egg-eating birds, such as Gulls, which would undoubtedly be quick to observe the uncovered eggs. During the breeding season Grebes have a variety of loud “braying” notes, but at other times they are usually silent, and they have the singular habit, when not compelled to dive quickly, of sinking down gradually and backward into the water until they disappear entirely, not leaving a ripple on the surface. They are also able to swim for an indefinite time with only the bill out of water, and the seemingly mysterious disappearance is often to be accounted for in this manner.