Tuesday, 3 March 2015

B.O.T.D. Western Grebe

Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)

It's May and the pageant of spring is in full swing across the prairies. Over lakes and marshes mallard and pintail drakes race to win a female's favour. Black terns glide in tandem, and the territorial chorus of yellow-headed blackbirds makes the bulrushes ring. But among those vying for recognition, the western grebe is clearly best in show. In all categories - grace, poise, innovation, and skill - the courtship routine of this bird rates a perfect ten.
As courtship begins, western grebes swim side by side arching their long, graceful necks in a backward bow. Suddenly, the birds sprint upright, lobed feet pattering across the lake, their necks bowed in demure S-shaped curves. At the conclusion of this reckless dash, the pair drops lightly to the surface and glides. But this is merely a warm-up. Swimming toward each other now, the birds dive ... then emerge, rearing high above the surface, breast touching breast, a sprig of moss clenched in each upturned bill. After pirouetting in tandem - one, two, three times - the birds finally part and settle to the surface.

A close relative of the Western Grebe (and only recently made a separate species) is the Clark's Grebe. The two birds are as similar in range as they are in appearance, nesting in colonies among the reed of freshwater marshes and wintering on coastlines, bays, and inland lakes.