Bird of the Week



Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the Clark’s grebe.

Until 1985, the Clark’s grebe was thought to be a variant of the more numerous western grebe, but genetic, physical and vocalization differences are enough to classify them as separate species. Although they may nest side by side, most of the time they do not interbreed.

Both of these grebes are elegant, long-necked, black and white waterfowl which ride low on the water. Often seen far from shore on large, open lakes, the physical differences may be difficult to spot. Both have a white face and neck, black cap and red eyes. The western grebe’s cap extends over the eye, but the eye of the Clark’s is surrounded by white. The Clark’s dagger-like bill is bright yellow or orange-yellow, while the western’s is a darker olive-green or gray.

Clark’s grebes often dive deeply for the fish, which are their primary food source, and are either speared or pinched by their long bills. Crustaceans, worms and aquatic insects also comprise a part of their diet.

Like the western, the Clark’s grebe engages in elaborate courtship rituals to attract a mate. At one point, a pair will rise up and run side by side on their feet across the surface of the water in a bird ballet.

These grebes build large, platform, floating nests in rushes or reeds near the edges of lakes. Navajo and Hatcher lakes provide this habitat in our area. People in boats or kayaks or on paddleboards who venture too close may cause these beautiful birds to abandon the nest and fail to reproduce.

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