Mendocino Coast Audubon Society logo Mendocino Coast Audubon Society

Western and Clark's Grebes

Western and Clark's Grebes

The long, white necked grebe with the red eye was recently split into two species: Western Grebe and Clark's Grebe. Both are seen along our coast in the fall and winter. In spring and summer they nest on large lakes inland. The bill of Clark's Grebe is brighter yellow and its plumage is paler over all with the white extending completely around the eye. The Western Grebe is darker with a greenish-yellow bill and dark gray around the eye.

Grebes are poor flyers. They migrate on moonlit nights. They are elegantly adapted for water. Their long neck is made for diving and their spear-like bill for catching small fish. The grebe's feet are not webbed but lobed and held open when the foot is paddling, which increases the surface area.

Grebes’ courtship dances are renowned among bird watchers. They stand side-by-side then dash across the water with their heads bowed. They also stand breast-to-breast with pieces of water plants in their beaks like a tango dancer with a rose in her teeth. Western and Clark's Grebes breed in large colonies. They make floating nests that are attached to underwater plants.

When the young hatch, they climb on the backs of the parents where they are carried and fed. Grebes will eat hundreds of their own feathers and feed them to their young. It is hought that this pads the stomach against the undigested fish bones.

Grebes were killed by the thousands for feathers for hats. Now their large numbers at places like Clear Lake are another sign to give us hope.

First published MCAS The Black Oystercatcher April 2013
Western Grebe (above) and Clark’s Grebe (below) photo by Ron LeValley www.LeValleyphoto.com