Eared Grebes - Colorful Divers

By Dave Hanks

Podiceps nigricollis is the worldís most abundant grebe. Like all grebes, it will dive and swim under water before it will fly. It can stay under a long time and can resurface a great distance away from the annoyance. Even though it prefers not to, it is a strong flier and migrates only at night. Its migration takes it to the coast to spend the winter. Before migration, it will double its weight. Migration is a high energy activity.

Summer sees it inland on shallow water bodies that have dense stands of aquatic vegetation where the bird nests in large colonies. At this time the birdís plumage changes from winter drab to springtime colors. It has a bright red eye, golden ear tufts and wings, and a black crest. It is 12 to 14 inches long and, like other water birds, has a short tail. A long tail would cause too much drag for a bird taking flight from the water surface.

The size and shape of the beak tells a story about a birdís habits. The Eared Grebe has a long, narrow, sharp beak Ė very handy for spearing animal matter, especially fish which make up the bulk of its diet.

We have seen this species in the wetlands of Walden, Colorado where we spent a morning, expending much effort, in pursuit of photos. Antelope Island, Utah; Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge, north-east of Great Falls, Montana; and Camas Refuge by Hamer, Idaho are spots where we have had the best luck observing this bird.

(A pair in the greenish water of Camas Refuge)