Pied-billed Grebes only migrate during the night which is why until yesterday I have never photographed them in flight. I’ve even written a post here on On The Wing Photography bemoaning the fact that I would never photograph them in flight. I was wrong, delightfully wrong.
Yesterday afternoon I was at my local pond where I photographed not one but two Pied-billed Grebes in flight. This is rarely seen and rarely photographed. I might never get the chance again.
Or maybe I will. The weather is warming up, the days are getting longer and it won’t be long before these grebes will want to breed, nest and raise their young. My local pond isn’t the best habitat for these grebes to nest because there is very little vegetation that they require to build their floating nests and very little cover for them needed to raise their young so these Pied-billed Grebes nest in other locations. To get there these grebes need to fly.
I’ve observed Pied-billed, Western and Clark’s Grebes flapping their wings while remaining stationary on the water over the years and the frequency of those wing flapping sessions increases near the time that these grebes migrate in the fall and with the Pied-billed Grebes, who are year round residents, in the spring. When there is danger grebes dive to escape predators, they don’t take flight like many other birds species. They spend a lot of time not flying any where at all.
This wing flapping behavior could be the conditioning they need to strengthen their wings and the muscles they use for flight. I noticed this wing flapping behavior right before I photographed a Clark’s Grebe in flight and I noticed the wing flapping behavior in the Pied-billed Grebes on the pond yesterday too before I took these flight photos. These images were taken from quite a distance and are large crops but I was still super excited to see them in flight and take these documentary photos.
The short flights I photographed yesterday from one side of the pond to the other may also be their way of getting ready for longer flights to their nesting locations.
I can’t be certain of that, these are just my observations as a naturalist and photographer but I can tell you I was more than thrilled to photograph these grebes flying over my local pond.
So maybe I will hang around my local pond more often as spring weather increases the need of these grebes to move to other locations to breed and catch them taking these practice flights.
Life is good. Birds make it more interesting.