PIED-BILLED GREBE – (Podilymbus podiceps)
The Pied-billed Grebe is thus called due to the black circle on their otherwise bill in breeding adults. Grebes are ‘water’ birds, and are excellent at swimming and diving, even though they don’t have webbed feet like ducks. Rather, their feet have lobes at the toes. Their legs are also placed further back on their body, allowing for better diving. However, this ability is counterbalanced by some clumsiness on the ground.
This grebe species has waterproof plumage, which is predominantly brown. During breeding season the throat is black. Juveniles have black and white stripes on the head and neck, and are more greyish than brown. They measure around 35 cm (14 in.) long. Pied-billed grebes will sink themselves in case of danger rather than fly, as they have the ability to trap water in-between their feathers. Grebes are also known to eat their feathers, and even feeding them to their chicks. This would apparently help protect the lining of their digestive system from abrasive and puncturing pieces of ingested prey.
Pied-billed grebes are common and widespread, and are found in various bodies of water like ponds or small lakes, in areas of emergent vegetation. They build their nests right on the water from dead vegetation. Their chicks will first travel on their parents’ back before learning to swim. These grebes need a lot of space until they can take off, and they can run very fast on top of the water.
The Latin name refers to the placement of this species’ feet near the vent, and to a ‘diver’. The English name ‘Grebe’ might come from a Breton word that means ‘crest’, as some species of grebe do have one.
The pied-billed grebe breeds on PEI, and is fairly common on the island throughout the seasons except winter. Its overall breeding range covers most of both Americas, and it will migrate to regions where the water does not freeze in the winter. Pied-billed grebes are considered poor fliers, which apparently does not seem to prevent some individuals from ending up in Europe, the Canary Islands, or even Hawaii!