Monday, September 25, 2023

Nesting Pied-billed Grebes

An immature Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) floats on the quiet waters of Howard Marsh, along Lake Erie not far east of Toledo, Ohio.

I visited the newly opened Howard Marsh West back on August 18, and shared some bird images made there in THIS POST. One species that was very conspicuous but did not use photos of in the above-cited post was Pied-billed Grebe. The little divers were everywhere, and several family units were present. I've always been smitten with grebes and tried to take photos when they would come into range.

A juvenile grebe, similar to the one pictured above, takes a test flight. the legs are set far back on the body, the better for diving, but that positioning requires much effort to get aloft. This one ran/skimmed/semi-flew across the water's surface for perhaps a football field's length before settling back in. Apparently just getting a feel for things and checking out the gear for the southward migration to come. Pied-billed Grebes are nocturnal migrants, so it would be unusual to catch one in true flight during daylight hours.

An adult grebe with black bib and hash mark on the bill, with a very young juvenile bird.

The Pied-billed Grebes added significantly to the Howard Marsh soundscape, with adults occasionally delivering their surprisingly loud jungle-like whooping, and the softer but still conspicuous chicken-like peeping of the still stripe-headed juveniles that depend upon their parents to provide food.

An adult grebe steams across the marsh with a freshly caught fish. Destination: a group of loudly peeping youngsters. There seemed to be at least three family units present in the marsh, and the younger chicks peeped nearly nonstop, constantly exhorting their hard-working parents to bring them fish, and MORE fish!

A trio of chicks accompanies this hard-working, probably sleepless adult, putting up a cacophony of peeps the whole time.

Adults fashion a rather crude floating platform of plants matter such as bulrushes, sedges and cattails, and the female lays about a half-dozen eggs atop that. Chicks - and adults - face many predators, including birds of prey, gulls, Raccoons, Snapping Turtles, Mink and others. Nonetheless, a fair number of striped juveniles had made it this far, and hopefully many of them will get to the point that they can take flight and move south when the time comes.

Casting eyes on this new section of Howard Marsh, it's hard to believe that not long ago it was all agricultural land. Prior to conversion for farming, it was wetland, and this project is a true wetland restoration - not creation. The avian response to wetland restoration can be astonishingly fast and this case is stark proof of that. And it will only get better in coming years. Kudos to Metroparks Toledo for their fine work.

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