Pied-Billed Grebe and the Bluegill – Dec 13

On Tuesday, 13 December, 12:53pm I observed a lone “Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), located along that narrow portion of brackish lagoon # 15, just east of the Marshwood # 7 (?) green/sand trap adjacent to water) The lagoon extends from North Landings way North (across from Dog park) to the Marshwood driving range. I was photographing this water bird with my 400mm lens draped across my bean bag, resting atop my golf cart steering wheel when it dove, surfaced app 8 yards distant with what first appeared to be a massive amount of green/slimy vegetation. I crept forward in my golf cart blind, drawing parallel as It turned towards me. I observed what appeared to be an extremely large member of the sunfish family. Luckily it was so engrossed in an attempt to ingest this prize that for the next five minutes I was able to digitally document the ordeal.

The fish, was subsequently identified as a “Bluegill’ (Lepomis macrochirus), aka Brim/ Brem by island residents Hank Scheeringa, confirmed by Caryl Warner, both experienced Landing’s lagoon fishermen. Caryl advised it appeared to be at least 7.5″ in length. The Bluegill is normally thought to be located in fresh water; however they…”can tolerate 1.8% salinity”. ( note to self-`check with Sean Burgess, The Landing’s Environmental Coordinator.” the average salinity of this lagoon). The question then is how did this large Bluegill ( sharp fins and bones) pass through the jaws of the Grebe. ( see below photos #’s 3,5 and 11- note how the jaws hinge)

This fascinatingly small,13 1/2″ long water bird has large lobed toed webb feet. The legs are short and moved far aft, arranged together to make this bird a fast and strong swimmer. I have arranged the thee images together to address the huge propulsion machines (feet), quite a creation!!! We are fortunate that the Pied-billed Grebe winters over here on Skidaway, mostly on our brackish lagoons, yet you will find them also on the fresh water ones, to a lesser degree. Their diet consist of “aquatic insects, also snails, fish, frogs, incidental aquatic vegetation.”

On, 22 November, while observing three Grebes napping and preening ( cleaning, rearranging, and oiling of the feathers with the bill) I noted one floated diagonally over to a feather, picked it up and swallowed it. It continued to preen and swallow more feathers. I also observed one of the other Grebes to also ingest its feathers. I thought this action to be most interesting. Thankfully contained in my library is a copy, ” The Birder’s Handbook”, a field guide to the natural history of North American Birds, by Paul R. Ehrlich, David Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye. They point out that fifty percent of the stomach contents of a Pied-billed Grebe may be feathers. Apparently the action of the gizzard is insufficient to crush the bones of the fish that are swallowed. “The feather balls are thought to protect the stomach by padding the sharp fish bones and slowing down the process of digestion so that the bones dissolve rather than pass into the intestine.” Subsequent to photographing and edited the below images I have a real appreciating of the evolution of this species, an efficient water bird.

You may have previously observed a few of the below Grebe images; however, I have again included them to assist in the telling the story of this wonderful little water bird ( I have never observed it on land), now sharing our island lagoons while over wintering.

Regards,
Fitz

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