Water bird sinks, swims but rarely flies

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The pied-billed grebe looks like a duck, but it is not. For starters, it doesn't quack. It has lobed toes rather than a duck's webbed feet, and it is known to spend more time in or on water than most ducks. A pied-billed grebe's diet consists of living things it finds below the surface of water such as small fish, crayfish, frogs and aquatic insects.

Because the male and female pied-billed grebe are visibly the same, it is virtually impossible to tell the sex of the grebe pictured here.

Although the pied-billed grebe can fly and sometimes migrates to find open water, its natural reaction when surprised is to sink and swim to a safer location. It has the ability to quietly squeeze the air from its lungs and sink without diving. Its head will often go beneath the surface last while leaving few or no ripples upon the water.

The dark band on this grebe's lighter colored beak indicates that it is a breeding adult. Adult pied-billed grebes normally weigh a little more than a pound and reach a length of a little more than a foot.

This little water bird is common in much of the western hemisphere where in some places it is referred to as a "water witch."

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell. Find this column at semissourian.com to order a reprint of the photo. Find more work by him at the O'Tenem Gallery.

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