Pied-billed Grebe

One nice thing about living only a couple of blocks from a large lake is that you’re guaranteed to see at least one bird species on any given walk. When I go for a walk at Boomer Lake, I go (usually) with no expectations in terms of what bird(s) I will spot. I knkow that depending on the time, temperature, and month–the species will vary.

Luckily, pied-billed grebes are a year-round resident in central Oklahoma. Therefore, I should hopefully be able to spot them at least once a quarter. Sometimes I spot them on every walk, and other times it could be a month (or longer) between sightings.

Pied-billed Grebe spotted at Boomer Lake

The pied-billed grebe is a smallish water bird, being somewhere between a robin and crow in size. They have a basic brown coloring–though the back feathers are a darker brown compared to the chest feathers. The ‘pied’ bill is only visible durin ghte breeding season (where the bill will be white with a black band); otherwise it is a yellow-brown color throughout the rest of the year.

Pied-bill Grebe migration map. Map (c) birds of the world

Pied-bill grebes are restricted to North America (though there have been sightings reported in Europe), and can be spotted within a majority of the continent (the exceptions are Alaska and northern areas of Canada). They’re summer residents for various parts of Canada and most northern states (such as Montana, the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Main), while being year-round residents for other states and then winter residents in pockets of states.

For Oklahoma, they’re year-round residents in majority of the state (summer residents in the panhandle and a few other northern counties). For Stillwater, they’re year-round residents–which makes sense, as there are several large bodies of water for them to live on (and they don’t dry up during the summer months).

They prefer to live on calm bodies of water that range from fresh to slightly brackish in terms of quality. They do spend basically all their time on the water, as they have ‘floating’ nests. These nests are constructed close to the water (if not slightly into the water) within aquatic plants that have extensive growth to shield them from predators.

Pied-billed grebe spotted on Boomer Lake

Their diet consists mostly of crustaceans (namely crayfish) and small fish. Though their diet can vary depending on location. Therefore the extensive diet of pied-billed grebes can include any of the following: crabs, shrimp, snails, mussels, beetles, dragonfly nymphs, aquatic insects (and larvae), leeches, frogs (and tadpoles), carp, minnow, catfish, sculpins, killifish, sticklebacks, gizzard shad, sunfish, and in the far north–salamanders.

Pied-billed Grebe seen on Boomer Lake

Other notes:

Since their feet are located further back on their body (similar to the loons), they’re awkward walkers on land–unless they walk erect.

Majority don’t migrate, since they’re not the greatest of fliers–though some will migrate long distances; for example the few pied-billed grebes that have been spotted within Europe (flew from somewhere within North America).

Young grebe can be spotted riding around on the backs of one of the parents during the first few weeks after hatching.

The pied-billed grebe is the only surviving member of the genus Podilymbus, as the other member of the genus (the Atitlan grebe found in Guatemala) was flightless and driven to extinction in the late 1980s.

References: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/pied-billed_grebe & www.oiseaux-birds.com/page-family-podicipedidae.html