Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Young Pied-billed Grebes Spending Time On The "Mother Ship" At Union Bay

Here is a recent post from the "Union Bay Watch" Blog published by Larry Hubbell, long-time photographer and birder.

Here also is an in-depth article about Larry and his work.

The Mother Ship

Young pied-billed grebes spend a lot of time on board the "mother ship." 

Technically, I am not positive about the gender of the parent. However, in honor of mothers everywhere and Mother's Day specifically, I am sticking with the mother-ship concept.

 Just like human young, they love looking out the window. You can almost hear them asking, "Are we there yet?"

The parents must have a great deal of patience and endurance. 

This adult is carrying four young, while a fifth is attempting to board via the stern.

The carrying capacity may not be posted, but the captain is clearly aware of the issue.

Lifting the bow institutes a fail-safe maneuver which keeps the ship afloat. Luckily, the passengers do not require flotation devices.

Almost immediately some of them climb back on board.

The young birds beg for food almost incessantly. 

The older and larger youngsters seem the most focused on food, which is good since soon they will be hunting on their own. Unlike mallard ducklings or geese goslings, young grebes are not hatched with the ability to find their own food. 

While underwater, the adult bites and shakes the prey into smaller pieces. I suspect the water helps to keep the food from flying away. It may also be safer, since initially the young birds tend to stay on the surface.

The young are certainly demanding.

Often the most aggressive youngster is rewarded.

The parents have plenty to do, so they do not micro-manage the feeding process. The food offered can be a bit large. This young grebe has the food but initially is only able to keep one leg above the surface. 

Like humans, the young often drop their food. Sometimes, the parent will wait a moment...

...before ducking under to retrieve the fallen food.

The food gets automatically washed in the process. No thirty second rule required.

It may be that large pieces of food are just part of the learning process. Unlike ducklings and goslings, these young birds must learn to be predators. Learning to consume large pieces of prey in a hurry can make all the difference.

The challenge can seem overwhelming.

The youngster rises to the challenge.

While some are feeding, the rest are keeping warm. A floating flotilla of warmth and protection.

Even from an adult's perspective, a larger fish can be challenging.

Not only must the parent subdue the prey, but they also have to watch out for their progeny. The young could easily get hammered by a flying fish tail.

In this case, the adult puts safety first and simply swallows the fish before someone gets hurt.

When the parent heads off on another hunting expedition, the young bird must find its own way back to the other parent. About fifty feet away, large carp are swiping food off the lily pads. It pays to stay close to an adult.

The safest place of all.

Still, every parent needs a break from child care.

It turns out that diving below the surface is another way to lighten the parental load. Did you notice the tiny little wings on the bird on the left?

When the parents finally switched roles, the newly "freed" adult spends over six minutes preening and cleaning.

I suspect there was a lot of residue to remove and plenty of feathers to align.

No matter how much you love your offspring, it can be nice to spread your wings and go it alone once in a while.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature nests in the city!


PS: Thank to Scott and Paul who guided me in the direction of these early birds. I have been watching other Union Bay nest sites and those other pied-billed grebes are still on eggs.

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