As many of you know, I am a huge fan of birding along the Thames River. The series of paths and trails are easily navigated and the birds and wildlife along the river are remarkable. The Red-necked Grebe is a bird that I just added to my life list this year, thanks to the extremely cold temperatures we have experienced. These birds usually winter on the Great Lakes, but with so much ice coverage many have moved inland in search of open water.
This particular Red-necked Grebe really liked this section of river between the bank and a sheet of ice for searching for food. It provided close views and was interesting to watch as it dove repeatedly, but unfortunately unsuccessfully during my watch.
On recent walks along the river I have viewed as many as four Red-necked Grebes in the section of river between Greenway and Springbank Parks. These birds don’t seem to be too shy around humans as many times I’ve had some pretty good views from close range. On one particular day I got quite lucky as one of these grebes was feeding in the shallow water right next to the bank. I managed to get in a position where there was a clearing in the shrubs and watched as the grebe hunted for food. Red-necked Grebes feed on small fish, aquatic insects, and crustaceans and must dive underwater in order to catch it. For whatever reason this grebe liked this small section between a sheet of ice and the river bank. I watched as it dove repeatedly in search of food, but unfortunately for the grebe it came up short every time. It was interesting to watch the grebe swim with its face in the water searching before every dive and as it cruised along the bottom in the shallow water.
Grebe’s bodies are designed for diving and swimming underwater. The rear placement of their legs makes walking on land quite difficult.
Grebe’s legs are set back far on their bodies which helps them dive and swim underwater but makes walking on dry land extremely difficult for them. It puts their balance off and they tend to fall on their breast as they try to walk. This particular grebe saw an open section of water in the middle of the sheet of ice and decided to try it’s luck there. Reluctant to dive and try to resurface in the hole further out in the ice, the grebe decided to walk. The grebe popped up on the ice and tried walking. Between it’s front-heavy body and the slippery ice it wasn’t making much progress. It reminded me of watching a child on skates for the first time. It tried using it’s wings for balance, but still continued to fall forward. The grebe eventually gave up and got back into the river alongside the sheet of ice. it was clearly hungry and was trying anything to find something to eat. I carried on with my walk and hoped that the grebe would soon find something to appease it’s hunger. These birds have travelled many kilometers this winter in search of food and mortality rates among all waterfowl are up due to starvation in many areas.
Struggling to walk across the slippery ice, this Red-necked Grebe tried using it’s wings to help balance.
If you have yet to see a Red-necked Grebe or some of the other waterfowl species that have overwintered on the Thames River, time is running out. As the Great Lakes thaw these birds will be making their way northwest back to their breeding grounds. Try to get out next week and experience some of the wonderful birding we have close to home.
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