Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Hell Diver

Really?   'Hell Diver'? What a name for such a personable little bird!

The term was often applied to all grebes but especially to the Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) because of its tendency to submerge, very quickly and quietly, when any threats occur.

Pete Dunne says:  "The old gunner's term for the bird, "the Hell Diver," refers to its reported ability to react to the flash of a fowling piece and submerge before the shot reaches the water."

Here's a Pied-billed Chick.  Our sloughs and ponds are filled with these perky little cuties these days.

Cool Fact from All About Birds:
  • The downy chicks can leave the nest soon after hatching, but they do not swim well at first and do not spend much time in the water in the first week. They sleep on the back of a parent, held close beneath its wings. By the age of four weeks, the young grebes are spending day and night on the water. For the first ten days their response to danger is to climb onto a parent's back.  After that, when danger threatens, they dive under water.

These grebes have an ability to almost immediately sink out of sight with barely a ripple on the water surface.  They compress their feathers to change shape thereby regulating buoyancy.  

They feed on aquatic insects, fish and small crustaceans (crayfish are a favourite).

The legs are placed at the rear-end so when a Pied-billed Grebe has to walk somewhere, it walks erect, like a penguin.  (I have never seen this; I am taking Pete Dunne's word for it).  

Pied-billed Grebes do not have webbed feet; instead each toe has inflated, flattened lobes that provides more paddling power.

Pied-billed Grebes only reluctantly fly on their home ponds, needing to make quite a long and ungainly run across the surface to become air-borne.  During their migrations to breeding and wintering locations, they fly at night.

Range Map:

Information sources:

Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion

All About Birds


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