Walking on Water

Clark’s Grebes (Aechmophorous clarkii)

Courtship among the big grebes is a complex and beautiful affair. Among its highlights is this walking — or rather, rushing — on water ceremony. Here it starts with the two birds facing each other and alternately dipping their heads in the water, and then, on a signal they both understand, paddling like crazy to rise out of the water and race side by side, throwing up a huge spray, until the partners collapse into the water and dive out of sight. Later, a couple that seem to have paired up glide quietly along the shore, at peace with the world.

There may have been as many as 100 of the big grebes out on the North Basin, spread loosely over a considerable area. They were a mixed flock, with both Clark’s and Westerns. The first set in the video above were Westerns. The two birds that started rushing on water, but only one persisted, were also Westerns. The successful pair were Clark’s. The peaceful pair at the end of the video are also Clark’s. These two species look very similar (See “Grebe ID 101,” Aug 3 2018) and have identical courtship behaviors, but can tell each other apart and hybrids are said to be very rare. Only a handful of either species were awake with courtship on their minds.

Clark’s Grebes (Aechmophorous clarkii)

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