I’ve seen three pied-billed grebes at the lake at McAlpine Park off Monroe Road in east Charlotte. They have been present for a couple of months already and show no signs of moving on.
Pied-billed grebes are one of my favorite birds. They are not rare at all. They are not colorful but garbed in drab brown plumage. They are not impressively large; instead they are quite tiny. They are not especially graceful in their movements, spending most of their time sitting still on the surface of the water.
Still, I like them. They’re cute.
Pied-billed grebes are wide-eyed and fluffy. Their mammalian counterpart is the kitten. Though they can crane their necks when they want to, their typical posture is one of a round ball of feathers floating on the surface of the water. Look at photos of them online. Many times they look like they are smiling at the camera, with their stubby chicken-like bills.
They can be comical and playful with the stalking birder too. Where many waterfowl will fly or dive to escape detection, pied-billed grebes will often just sink, slowly disappearing under the water until just their head is exposed. From this position, they keep an eye on what’s going on.
I have been birding for 40 years and have seen hundreds of pied-billed grebes, yet I cannot say for certain that I have ever seen one fly. They just appear on a small body of water one day, stay for a few weeks or months, and then disappear one night. I think they only fly to migrate.
The species gets its name from the black band that circles the adult’s bill during the breeding season. In winter the band is lost, leaving a plain brown or brownish-yellow bill.
The species can frequent any small body of water in the area. If you have a pond in your neighborhood, check for a little brown “duck” that doesn’t really act like a duck at all.
Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com.
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