„The Grebes of the world” project
Grebes in Poland and worldwide
When it comes to grebes, we the Polish can consider ourselves lucky. There are 19 species of grebes all over the world, from which 2 are critically endangered. Poland is located in the area where the biggest number of species coexist. We have a chance to observe 5 species at once and 4 of them are nesting birds. The most common are the Great Crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus) and the tiny Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis). Less numerous are the Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) and the Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena). During migrations or wintering season we can encounter the Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus).
Grebes of Poland
A few words about “The Grebes of the World” project
Since the beginning of my wildlife photography journey, I have devoted a significant part of my time to grebes. Eventually, they are my favorite birds! I have spent with them hundreds of hours. Even though I had so many attempts to photograph grebes, I still have much more to do andthe list of dream frames is still quite long. In 2015 I came up with the idea of a long and passionate adventure. The vision of “Grebes of the World” project was developing slowly. Finally, the following aim has been set: all species of grebes to be photographed in 10 years’ time. However, I have been wondering what steps should be taken at first. I’ve decided to focus for now on our domestic species. The most important is to complete the scenes from their lives which I haven't captured yet. And maybe meeting the Horned Grebe will be next...
Some interesting facts about grebes
Do you know that …
… grebes are one of the most efficient bird-divers
Diving birds are divided into 2 groups – wing- and foot-propelled. Grebes belong to the second group and, next to loons, are considered as ones of the most efficient foot-propelled swimmers. In opposition to majority of other water birds their feet do not have webbings. Instead, grebes have lobate feet, in which each toe has an asymmetric and stiff swimming lobe. Grebes feet are strongly moved to birds' back. Thanks to these unique features grebes can freely move and change direction under water. They can excellently deal both with foraging at different depths and with swimming in dense underwater vegetation.
The red-necked grebe
… grebes almost can't walk
The unique foot construction of grebes also has its side effects. Grebes can be said to be overland cripples, they hardly ever go out from the water. What is interesting, they dive in life-threatening situations. However, if they step on the land, they have basic problems with walking a few meters. They fall down again and again. They strive to manage with the situation by flapping their wings as if they wanted to fly high in the air. The also try to crawl jumping on their bellies as frogs. Among other water birds it is only loons, that cope worse with walking on the ground. The loons can't stand vertically at all.
… some grebes lose weight
The great majority of grebes can fly, but they are not considered good flyers. There are also flightless grebes like the Titicaca Grebe (Rollandia microptera) and the critically endangered Junin Grebe (Podiceps taczanowskii). Our domestic Black-necked Grebe becomes temporarily flightless during breeding seasons. This is associated not only with molting, but also with the temporary muscular dystrophy and gaining extra weight. In contrast to other migrating birds, grebes start to consume their fat reserves before their migration. In this way they can lose even one third of their weight. Presumably, by doing that they postpone their departure as long as possible. So, they stay on their ponds for some time, even when there is food shortage. During the weight loss period, grebes perform regular exercises which involve wing flapping. The closer is the grebes’ departure date, the more frequent the exercises are. Their aim is to restore the flight muscles which are not used during the molting season.
… there is a special language for communication between parents and chicks
The characteristic features of grebe’s chicks are 3 bare spots on their heads. Researchers have recently discovered their purpose. It turned out that young birds use them for communication with parents. It is done by changing the spot size or color (from grey to pink). The parents are capable of recognizing different combinations of these signals and thanks to them they know when chicks are worried, hungry or just want to play!
Adult red-necked grebes with chicks