A Pied Billed Grebe Swims Past at A.E. Crookes Park near Toronto, Ontario

I enjoy visiting the Red Necked Grebes when they nest at the marina in Bronte Harbour each spring. And I’ve met Horned Grebes diving into the icy chill of Lake Ontario at Colonel Sam Smith Park when the ice is barely out of the bays. Less often, I’ve seen a very small grebe there, too, always swimming rapidly away from me and if possible straight into the sunlight. Do these birds know how that affects a photo or do they just hope the sun will blind a predator’s eyes? So I was pleased to see another Pied Billed Grebe recently offshore at a park in Mississauga who dallied long enough for me to snap a few quick photos.

Photo of Pied Billed Grebe Profile On NaturalCrooksDotCom

Are Pied Billed Grebes the Smallest Ontario Grebe?

If you see a Pied Billed Grebe beside a Red Necked Grebe you’ll notice a big difference in the size of the two birds before you notice the two-coloured bill on the smaller one. (The word “Pied” means having two or more different colours, by the way.)

How does it compare, though, to a Horned Grebe?

Photo of Horned Grebe In Sun On NaturalCrooksDotCom
The bird above is a Horned Grebe.

Well, according to the AllAboutBirds website, the Pied Billed has a body length of 30-38 cm (up to 15 inches) and the Horned has a very similar body length. So why do Pied Billeds seem so much smaller?

Photo of Pied Billed Grebe Male Mallard on NaturalCrooksDotCom
It was amusing to watch the Grebe surface just as a Mallard swam up. I’m not sure who was more surprised.

I think it may be their shape. They are chunky and have a ridiculously small feather where you’d expect a tail. Maybe it’s also because they tend to like calm or sluggish water where large puddle ducks like Mallards often live. In comparison to a Mallard, they are tiny-looking.

Do Pied Billed Grebes Sink?

Like Loons, Pied Billed Grebes can voluntarily sink themselves. I was watching this one when it decided to impersonate a submarine.

Photo of Pied Billed Grebe Going Down on NaturalCrooksDotCom
They can sink right before your eyes!

According to the Cornell website, they trap water in their feathers to help control their buoyancy. They have even been known to use this skill when fishing for minnows and crustaceans like crayfish.

The New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide page says they have “relatively solid bones.”  This is helpful for a diving bird as well. (Many songbirds have “hollow” bones to reduce weight.)

Will Pied Billed Grebes Nest in Southern Ontario?

Photo of Pied Billed Grebe Sun on NaturalCrooksDotCom
Yes, this is the same bird! It’s just a photo taken straight into the sun, after the bird emerged from a dive. Now you know why I don’t like shooting into the sun!

I wasn’t sure whether this grebe would soon be gone or not, so I checked the breeding range for Pied Billeds. It seems that they do nest in southern Ontario so it’s possible I may see this bird again later this summer. I won’t mind if I do: they’re cute!

Photo of Pied Billed Grebe Big Head On NaturalCrooksDotCom
This “Disney-like” big head effect was accidental caused by the angle and by the long lens I was using. It does look cute though!

Oh, and Who Was A.E. Crookes?

As another Crooks, I was curious about the person for whom the park was named. It turns out Albert Crookes was a local businessman and community volunteer, according to the City of Mississauga website.


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