Podilymbus podiceps

DescriptionThe pied billed Grebe are seen on a whale watching boat tour with Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on Vancouver Island.

Pigeon sized, they measure 12–15 inches (30–38 cm). A stocky, uniformly brownish water bird, with stout whitish bill that has black ring around it during breeding season.

Habitat

Marshes, ponds; salt water in winter if freshwater habitats freeze.

Nesting

Five to seven whitish eggs, stained brown, in a well-hidden floating mass of dead marsh vegetation anchored to adjacent plants.

Range

Breeds from British Columbia, southern Mackenzie, and Nova Scotia southward. Winters in southern states or wherever water remains open.

Voice

A series of hollow cuckoo-like notes, cow-cow-cow-cow, cow, cow, cowp, cowp, cowp, that slows down at the end; various clucking sounds.

Discussion

On ponds and marshes where it breeds, the pied-billed grebe advertises its presence with loud, barking calls. It eats small fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects but is especially fond of crayfish, which it crushes easily with its stout bill. When alarmed, this grebe often sinks slowly into the water, resurfacing out of sight among the reeds. But it can also dive with amazing speed, a habit that has earned it the nickname “hell-diver”. It is also called the “dabchick” in some areas. It is the most common nesting grebe in the east.