Pied-billed Grebes in Flight – Rare Sight to See & Photograph

/, Pied-billed Grebes, Salt Lake County, Utah/Pied-billed Grebes in Flight – Rare Sight to See & Photograph

Pied-billed Grebe in flightPied-billed Grebe in flight – Nikon D500, f8, 1/800, ISO 250, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

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.

Flying Pied-billed GrebeFlying Pied-billed Grebe – Nikon D500, f8, 1/2000, ISO 250, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

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.

Pied-billed Grebe in flight over a pondPied-billed Grebe in flight over a pond – Nikon D500, f8, 1/1250, ISO 250, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

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.

Pied-billed Grebe floating byPied-billed Grebe floating by – Nikon D500, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 250, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

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.



  1. Utahbooklover February 16, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    Some great images and your excitement for your first daylight flight of these pied-billed grebes understandable.
    Finally every last trace of our snow has melted without flooding us but the lawn looks bad, like it really suffered.

  2. Patty Chadwick February 16, 2017 at 3:38 pm

    Interesting series, but to me, the water is the star if the show…both patterns and colors are amazing!!!

  3. Jane Chesebrough February 16, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Great find, Mia. Never seen them in flight and not too often at all.

  4. Liz Cormack February 16, 2017 at 7:57 am

    I would be just as excited as you if I ever saw a Pied-billed Grebe in flight. Lucky you. And fantastic photos to boot.

  5. Lana Hays February 16, 2017 at 7:06 am

    Well done. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a Pied-blled Grebe actually fly. Scoot across the water…yes. Fly….no.

  6. shoreacres February 16, 2017 at 6:18 am

    This is just wonderful. I see pied-billed grebes now and then, but as you say, they’re mostly floating around. I did capture one on a nest — although i didn’t realize it until I came home and looked at the photo.

    I’m so happy for you, and happy for us that you were there to record this.

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