Readers’ wildlife photos

To get photographs from Phoenix resident Pete Moulton, I must see his work on his Facebook page and then beg him for some pictures for this site. The things I do for you readers! At any rate, Pete and I share a fondness for pie-billed grebes (Podilymbus podiceps), among the cutest of North American water birds (especially the chicks), and I asked him for some of his Facebook pictures of that species. He kindly complied, so here we go (his notes are indented):

The resident pair of adult Pied-billed Grebes at my favorite pond at Papago Park had an early brood this year, with four youngsters out and about–and fairly well grown–by mid-May, so it was a huge surprise to find this adult and freshly hatched youngster on 26 June. Freshly hatched juvenile grebes regularly ride on their parents’ backs, something that baby loons (aka divers) also do, but I’d never been able to photograph this behavior before. Too far away, too heavily cropped, and the light was poor, but the pose is compelling, and provides some hope for improvements.

Look at those cuties!

PBGR1_6-26-16_Papago Pk_2235

I’d thought it was the first one out of the nest, but no one’s seen the other adult, nor any additional babies. It’s a mystery. Anyway, being the only offspring, and having one whole parent to itself, the chick has grown rapidly, so that by 16 July it was nearly as large as the adult. It still begs for food incessantly, but the adult’s beginning to ignore the demands. During about 90 minutes of observation, the adult fed the chick a few morsels by regurgitation. Here’s the youngster at about three weeks of age:

PBGR2_7-16-16_Papago Pk_2773

Only once during the observation did the adult catch a crayfish, which the young bird immediately snatched away and devoured:

PBGR3_7-16-16_Papago Pk_2785

PBGR4_7-16-16_Papago Pk_2787

PBGR5_7-16-16_Papago Pk_2789

PBGR6_7-16-16_Papago Pk_2790

The little grebe has grown up to the point where it’s making short dives on its own, and it shouldn’t be too long now before it’s feeding itself.

Here’s the range of the pie-billed grebe shown on the Cornell bird site:



  1. Posted July 21, 2016 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Pete’s work is simply outstanding! Thanks!

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted July 21, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Why, thank you, smokedpaprika!

  2. rickflick
    Posted July 21, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the pleasant reminder. When I was a sophomore I did a study of pied billed grebes in our local pond (the paper may still be in the attic). I didn’t have good enough lenses to get great closeups like this. Such a beautiful bird with such amazing habits!

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted July 21, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Thank you, rickflick! They’re great little birds, aren’t they?

  3. Posted July 21, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I too studied Pied-billed Grebes, in college. Such cute birds.

    That little chick is riding on an apterium, a bare, unfeathered area, under the parent’s wing. Heat can be transferred easily through the apterium. Indeed, hot grebes fan themselves by moving the folded wings up and down rapidly, alternately, slightly, thus moving air over the apteria.

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted July 21, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

      This explains another behavior I’ve noticed in Pied-billeds. In late summer, when temperatures are highest, Pied-billeds often sit motionless on the water, facing into the breeze with their wings extended, for a passive form of the method you describe.

      • Posted July 21, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        Yes. Lovely photos! Of one of my favorite birds.

        • Pete Moulton
          Posted July 21, 2016 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

          Thank you, sedgequeen! They’re great favorites of mine too.

  4. Hempenstein
    Posted July 21, 2016 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    The bill’s shaped like a piece of pie? (Checked W’pedia, but got no answer.)

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted July 21, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      The bill is ‘pied’, which is a reference to multicoloration, especially of the black and white flavor.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted July 22, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        Thx! Figured it must be some definition I wasn’t aware of.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted July 21, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

      Evolved for eating crayfish pie.

  5. Mark R.
    Posted July 21, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Thanks for all you do for us readers Jerry!!!

    Really great photos, thanks! It shows that this species is a resident year-round in Washington. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one though. 😦

    • Pete Moulton
      Posted July 21, 2016 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      Thanks, Mark! One of my facebook friends has recently been posting a lot of Pied-billed Grebe photos on his Seattle-based page, so they presumably occur there, at least.

  6. Posted July 21, 2016 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    The parents with babies on their backs are wonderful.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 21, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      Hinting at a metaphor?

      • Posted July 22, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        Me, not, because where I live, human parents almost never carry young children on their back.

        • rickflick
          Posted July 22, 2016 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

          Not literally perhaps.

  7. Posted July 22, 2016 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Wonderful (and heart-warming) photos Pete!

    We are lucky to have pied-billed grebes on our pond during spring and fall migration. I haven’t noted any resident yet.

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