Story by Mary Robichaux
If you look carefully along the banks of any pond or lake in the Bay Area, you might see a nest that looks like it is floating on the water. If it belongs to the Pied-billed Grebe, that’s just what it’s doing. The grebe builds a floating-mound nest of dead marsh plants fastened to nearby vegetation. If both grebe parents are building it together, a nest like this can take up to a week to complete. Once built, it is the perfect place for the grebe’s colorful blue-green eggs. Since it only takes a month to incubate the eggs, the most likely place to see a grebe chick is hitching a ride on one of its parent’s backs. The adult grebe’s build is rather stocky, so the going is easy for these little ones.
The black and white striped chicks eat insects while they are young but, as they grow older, they learn to eat small fish using their short, thick bill. Full grown grebes often reach 12 to15 inches long. California is a great place for grebes because of the dragonflies, nymphs, snails, frogs, and the variety of small fish for them to eat.
Most of the year, the pied-billed grebe prefers to live on freshwater ponds, lakes, and marshes. The pond at Penitencia Creek Park in San Jose has the exact conditions that the grebe enjoys. Maybe you will see one on your next visit. If you come close to a grebe, try not to spook it because it will quickly immerse itself into the water only to surface a few minutes later far away from its original location, camouflaged in the reeds.