Aechmophorus occidentalis

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

Measuring 22–29 inches (56–74 cm), it is a large slender grebe with a long neck. Blackish above with black of cap extending below eyes; white below and on front of neck. Bill long, slender, and greenish yellow. Long white wing stripe shows in flight. See Clark’s grebe.

Habitat

Breeds on large lakes with tules or rushes; winters mainly on shallow coastal bays and estuaries.

Nesting

Three or four bluish-white eggs, stained brown or buff, on a floating nest anchored to reeds. Nests in dense, noisy colonies.

Range

Breeds from British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Minnesota south to southern California; sparsely in Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Winters along Pacific Coast from south-eastern Alaska to California, on Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas, and on large river systems in the west.

Voice

A rolling kr-r-rick, kr-r-rick! sounded most often on breeding grounds but sometimes heard in winter.

Discussion

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. During migration, western grebes fly in loose flocks but spread out to feed during the day. On their coastal wintering grounds these birds often fall victim to oil spills and to insecticides that accumulate in their food, build up in their bodies, and reduce their breeding success.