Friday, October 8, 2010

Pied-billed Grebe

Erika and I also photographed this Pied-billed Grebe during our recent Circle Lake trip.  This bird is another waterfowl that beginning birders sometimes mistake for ducks.  But grebes are not ducks.  Older bird books place them next to loons, but DNA research suggests that grebes are distantly, but most closely related to flamingos!  They lack webbed feet, having only their individual toes with webs and their bills are not shaped like a duck bill.

Grebes are one of the few bird families that lack tail feathers.  They have only downy feathers where the tail should be.  The lack of a tail may be an adaption for streamlining these expert divers.  To keep them dry, grebes have over 200,000 feathers, which have a unique waterproofing structure.  You can see water droplets on this bird's head.  Pied-billed Grebes eat fish and protect their gizzards from fish bones by eating their feathers, creating protective pellets around the fish bones.  Eventually the grebes regurgitate the pellets.

Much of this information is from the Handbook of the Birds of the World, a wonderful, lavishly illustrated resource for birders with deep pockets.  There are to be 16 volumes.  If you factor the price per bird family, however, the series' cost becomes less prohibitive.

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