May 15, 2009 by  
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Bird Species U-Z

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Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), also known as the Slavonian Grebe, can be found both in North America and Eurasia and it is considered to be widespread and abundant. However, there is a place in Canada known as the Iles-de-la-Madeleine where a small population of Horned Grebe has been breeding since at least 1989. Their numbers remain small and have ranged from between six to fourteen individuals, yet still this small cluster of birds continues to exist. Because the population is so small and fragile, it is carefully monitored by the Canadian Wildlife Service yet its origin and continued existence remains a mystery to most.

Generally speaking, the Horned Grebe is 31-38 cm in length with a 55-64 cm wingspan. Both sexes are similar in shape, size and color with a small, stocky body and a short, thin bill. The bill is normally black in color while the head is blocky in shape with a ‘peak’ at the back. The feet are set quite far back and it has white secondaries which are visible in flight. The adult normally has a black cap, hindneck and back, while its flanks, belly and foreneck are white in colour. However, during breeding season most birds come to have a golden strip which extends from the eye to the back of the head. This is combined with a reddish neck and flanks and a dark back with a white belly. The bird’s ‘horns’ are actually small little yellowish patches of feathers which can be found behind the birds eyes. The Horned Grebe can raise and lower these at will giving the bird the appearance of having ‘horns’.

The Horned Grebe generally nests near permanent but shallow ponds with good vegetation and open water. Once they have hatched, Horned Grebe chicks often ride on the backs of their parents as they swim about – in fact they may even go underwater with them during dives. Most find it interesting to note that the Horned Grebe usually eats some of its own feathers – so many, in fact that they usually form a plug in the birds stomach. This plug may work to filter potentially harmful items – such as fish bones – out of food and keep them in the stomach until they have been properly digested. This ‘plug’ is a normal part of life for the bird and adult Horned Grebes may even feed their young feathers in order to help them develop a plug.

Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)

February 9, 2009 by  
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The Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) moves in large flocks and is found across the American western region and Mexico in the summer, migrating towards the Pacific Coast and Southwestern waters for winter. Both the males and females look similar, with black crowns, back, wings, nape and face. They have white plumage on their necks, throats and bellies, and have red eyes and bills that are a green-yellow color.

Being water birds, the Western Grebe can be found close to the seashore, freshwater lakes, ponds and swamp areas. They generally feed on fish, which is speared with their bills, but also eats crustaceans and insects. During the breeding season, both the male and female Grebe will assisting in building a nest that floats and is constructed from plant materials that are anchored to plants emerging above the shallow water. The female Grebe will lay three or four eggs, and both parents will take care of the eggs during the incubation period. The incubation period for the Western Grebe is 23 to 24 days. The eggs are a blue-white color and the male and female Grebes both feed the chicks after they have hatched. The Western Grebe, and the Clarke’ Grebe, population numbers were dwindling dangerously low, due to being hunted for their feathers. However, conservationists have been working to protect these species and the numbers have slowly been recovering. These birds are very sensitive during the breeding season, and if humans come too close to the nest, they will abandon the nest, leaving the eggs completely exposed to dangers.

The Western Grebe has one of the most amazing and spectacular mating dances – very elaborate and extremely entertaining. Both the male and female Grebes will lift their chests above the water and move together while gently letting the vegetation that they have in their bills, run over one another. The mating pair will then look at one another, before they suddenly leap from the water and run across the surface with wings outstretched and necks held rigid, before diving head first into the water together.