Thursday, 5 February 2015

B.O.T.D. Pied-Billed Grebe

B.O.T.D. Feb 5, 2015

Pied-Billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

"Look there! Is that some kind of...?" But it's too late. The bird is gone. Where a snaky head and neck seemed to protrude amid the lily pads just a moment ago, there is nothing now, not even a ripple of evidence. An illusion? Imagination? No, just the "water witch" - the common and endearingly elusive pied-billed grebe.

In less that a minute, the periscope head of this puckish bird will reappear - somewhere. Convinced that no danger is imminent, the ring-billed wraith of weeds may even bob to the surface, water running off breast feathers as silky as otter fur. But it takes only an incautious movement, just a pointing finger or raised binocular, to send the piped-billed under again. Commercial hunters, who a century ago  shot the bird for feathers to adorn women's hats, swore it could dive in the flash of a muzzle and be safely submerged be fore the bullet struck the water.

Flight seems something of an after thought to the pied-billed grebe, a last resort. Takeoffs require both and aquatic runway and a flapping, foot splashing start. And once airborne, the bird labours mightily to stay there. Fortunately it doesn't have to fly too often Over much of its range, the pied-billed grebe is a permanent resident of freshwater ponds and marshes. In winter, northern pied-bills retreat only far enough to find open water. Occasionally they misjudge the reach of winter and get get caught on a freezing lake, When this happens, they are grounded by the ice - and will be lucky to see the next thaw.