Western Grebe

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Common Name: Western Grebe
Scientific Name: Aechmophorus occidentalis

Size: 22-30 inches (55-75 cm); Wingspan: 31-40 inches (79-102 cm)

Habitat: North America; breeds from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Minnesota south to southern California; sparsely in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. They winter along Pacific Coast from southeastern Alaska to California, on Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas, and on large river systems in West.

In winter, Western Grebes are found mostly on saltwater bays. During the breeding season they are found on freshwater wetlands with a mix of open water and emergent vegetation. The breeding areas are located in the central arid steppe and Big Sage/Fescue zones stretching from California north and east to south-central Canada.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 80,000. Populations may be declining. Around 1900, Western Grebes were extensively hunted for their silky white breast and belly feathers, which were used in clothing and hats. This aquatic species is also sensitive to pesticides, to other causes of poor water quality, and entanglement in fishing line. Western Grebes nest in colonies and can be flushed by boaters that approach too closely, leaving their nests vulnerable to gulls and other predators. On their coastal wintering grounds they are vulnerable to oil spills and are caught in gill nets. According to NatureServe, their status is of particular concern near the edges of their range, in Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and British Columbia, Canada.

Diet: Mostly fish such as carp, herring, mollusks, crabs, and salamanders.

Nesting: Sexes were alike. Western Grebes are large and slender with long necks and long, thin bills. Plumage is dark gray above and white below, with a clear color division. The top of the face is black, and the bottom white. The black extends below the eye in the Western Grebe. (In the closely related and similar-appearing Clark's Grebe, the black ends above the eye.) The bill of the Western Grebe is yellowish to dull olive.

The mating display of the Western Grebe is spectacular, with both members of a pair paddling vigorously and churning across the surface of the water in an upright posture. Sometimes many pairs in a colony display simultaneously.

Together, the male and female Western Grebe build a floating nest made of heaps of plant material anchored to emergent vegetation in a shallow area of a marsh. The female lays three to four bluish-white eggs, stained brown or buff, on a floating nest anchored to reeds., and both parents incubate. Once hatched, the young leave the nest almost immediately and ride on the backs of the parents. Both parents feed the young. Young are plain gray and white, not striped like the young of other grebes.

Cool Facts: Folk names include "dabchick", "swan grebe" and "swan-necked grebe".

Found in Songbird Remix Waterfowl Volume 4: Geese, Loons, Grebes & Coots

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