I'm on a mission, along with Pam Perry, my friend and colleague, to locate the red-necked grebe. We need your help.
Grebes are superb swimmers and divers that eat small fish, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic insects. They have lobed feet and short wings, tails and legs, which are set far back on the body. Their flight is weak and hurried and, like loons, they must taxi before becoming airborne.
Five species of grebes frequent Minnesota. The smallest is the pied-billed grebe at about 12 inches. Other grebes are the eared, horned, red-necked and, the largest, the 24-inch western grebe. On rare occasions the Clark's grebe, which looks almost identical to the western, is also seen in Minnesota.
Andrea Lee Lambrecht
The red-necked grebe is identified by its ebony eyes and a crown that extends down to the sturdy straight bill, rusty neck, large whitish cheeks, dark body and light underside. The top of the bill is black and the bottom is yellow. Males and females look similar. In non-breeding seasons look for a grayish fore neck, chin and cheek. Red-necked grebes are 17 to 22 inches long and have a 2-foot wingspan.
During the spring courtship season grebes emit wild, whinnying vocalizations. Whistles and wails also accompany the wooing, which is done at night. Grebes are quiet after the courtship season.
Unlike western grebes, which are found in freshwater colonies of hundreds, red-necked grebes nest alone or in scattered groups, building platform nests in floating marsh vegetation using decayed and fresh plants. A solid mound is formed and anchored to or built up from surrounding plants in the water.
Females lay four to five white eggs and sometimes re-lay eggs if nests are destroyed. Incubation by both sexes takes about three weeks. Mortality is high.
In early summer adults have bumps on their backs, but not from deformity, but because little grebes are hidden away. Young grebes take shelter in the feathered backs of their parents, even as the adult slips underwater to fetch a fish.
Red-necked grebes are not common in our state, but have historically bred in a triangular area fanning out from central into northern Minnesota. Lake Edward once had a notable number of grebes and I've seen them on North Long Lake as well. But in recent years the local population has almost vanished.
So please look and listen for red-necked grebes and let me know if you see any birds. Call me or send an e-mail with the name and location of the lake, how many birds you saw, if they were on a nest, etc. I'd also like to know if the grebes have nested on a lake in the past.
I'll keep you posted about our pursuit. The information also will be given to the DNR nongame wildlife program, which will conduct a survey this summer if funding allows.
ANDREA LEE LAMBRECHT, naturalist and outdoors photographer, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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