Western Grebe with Young

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Western Grebe (Aechmophorous occidentalis) with young. 11 x 15″ Gouache painting. Copyright Bryce W. Robinson

I really enjoy the strange behaviors found in the bird world. The Western Grebe (Aechmophorous occidentalis) is then naturally a favorite, due to a few behaviors that are on the surface quite strange.

The first is the rushing, or the synchronous courtship dance where a pair runs in contorted posture across the water. I’ve never painted, photographed, or filmed this behavior but I hope to this coming spring.

The second is the behavior pictured above. Young grebes ride on their parents back, situated between the wings. The parent dives for fish with young in tow, then surfaces with a catch and feeds it to the young.

The third is perhaps the strangest of the behaviors. Grebes eat their own feathers, and parents feed their feathers to their young. There are many hypotheses of what they may do this, but perhaps the most plausible is to line their stomachs. Grebes of course eat fish, yet their gizzards may not fully crush the bone. To protect the soft tissue of their proventriculus and perhaps parts of the intestines, grebes then eat a large amount of feathers that line their insides.

Rather incredible….

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