Water Dance of Leucistic Eared Grebes on the Great Salt Lake

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Leucistic Eared Grebes on the Great Salt LakeLeucistic Eared Grebes on the Great Salt Lake – Composite of 9 photos

I don’t see many birds with leucism even though I am out in the field to photograph birds often so I was very excited when I spotted a leucistic Eared Grebe out on the Great Salt Lake from the causeway yesterday. Other reports of leucistic Eared Grebes in the area have landed in my inbox over the years but I had never see one let alone photographed one.  But there it was, swimming on the surface of the lake, a tiny white beacon of fluff with another grebe in normal plumage for this time of the year to compare it to (top left). I took a bunch of images of it even thought it was too far away to obtain high quality images that showed fine details but I didn’t care, I had had spotted a leucistic grebe and I was excited.

It is a good thing I am using digital cameras now because the film and developing on that bird alone would have been pricey.

Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes. Unlike albinism, it is caused by a reduction in multiple types of pigment, not just melanin.

But then as I moved east there was another leucistic Eared Grebe on the lake where I could still see the first one I photographed. It wasn’t nearly as white as the first grebe but it was still way too white for this species (top center).

And a little further east on the causeway I find another leucistic grebe. By this time I am wondering what the chances are of seeing three leucistic grebes so close together. The third grebe had a patchy white and gray back and a patch of dark feathers behind its eye and a darker bill than the first one I photographed (top right). My camera got quite a work out with the second and third leucistic grebes too.

But then I located another leucistic grebe that was different than the first three (middle left) that was consuming one of its own feathers that it had knocked loose while preening.

Down the road just a little bit and I spotted a nearly pure white grebe (middle center) that only had a spot of dark feathers on its rump and a few at the base of its neck.

The Great Salt Lake is a huge attractant for Eared Grebes because of the brine flies and brine shrimp and during some parts of the year it isn’t unusual to see thousands and thousands of them feeding on the hypersaline lake and right now they are increasing in numbers on the lake. So by the fifth leucistic Eared Grebe seen in less than fifteen minutes I wondered if I was seeing so many because they were concentrated close to the causeway.

But wait… there is more! A sixth leucistic grebe with a dark bill with a few dark feathers on its back, a section of its neck and crest (middle right).

By then I was thinking “how can this be, how can there be so many leucistic grebes on the lake?”. I took plenty of photos of each bird each time and lamented the fact that they were too far away to get frame filling images of them.

Then I look and find another a little further to the east, this one with dark feathers on the back of its head, a dark bill and a few dark feathers on its back (bottom left).

But I wasn’t done yet…

Then an eighth leucistic grebe with a nearly pure white head and neck and only a couple of dark feathers on its back (bottom center) is sighted and I start thinking that I am having a ridiculously good day finding so many leucistic Eared Grebes.

On a second pass down that section of the causeway there more leucistic Eared Grebes! By then it was getting difficult to tell which ones were seen the first time and which ones hadn’t been seen. So I took more photos to compare them at home but I still lost track.

I photographed the ninth leucistic grebe (bottom right) on the second pass east on the causeway and it was a different bird from all the rest. By the time I photographed it I was amazed at how many of these unusual leucistic Eared Grebes there were.

Then I lost it, I can’t tell exactly how many leucistic grebes I saw.

A group of grebes is called a “water dance” of grebes and yesterday I saw a water dance of leucistic grebes! I will probably never see and photograph so many leucistic Eared Grebes again in my life time as I did yesterday on the Great Salt Lake.

Life is good. Birds are amazing.




  1. Kenn Kaufman July 23, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    Fascinating story and, of course, wonderful images! We were out on the Antelope Island causeway at GSL on Monday, July 17, with a field trip from the National Audubon convention, and we saw at least two leucistic Eared Grebes among the masses of normally plumaged grebes. Someone in our group was convinced that they had spotted a third individual. But nine individuals documented – that’s amazing! Have to wonder how this concentration came about.

  2. Elephants Child July 22, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    Fascinating. And beautiful. My ‘wonder why’ button would have been in overdrive.

  3. April Olson July 22, 2017 at 11:59 am

    WOW! what and incredible find! My favorite it the bottom left bird, very striking coloration. Maybe I will see them Sunday.

  4. Pepe Forte July 22, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Great series of pics with absolutely fascinating narrative. I sure do learn a lot from your posts Mia. Thanks.

  5. Patty Chadwick July 22, 2017 at 10:35 am

    Boy! Does this ever pique my curiosity!!! To see so many of these atypical birds at the same time in the same place,,,can’t help but wonder why…

  6. Esther July 22, 2017 at 6:22 am

    Or epigenetic? Something in the maternal environment affecting pigment production of offspring?

  7. Kathie Brown July 22, 2017 at 6:15 am

    Oh my word, Mia! This is incredible!!!! You certainly hit the leuchistic grebe jackpot! What a sight to see. My heart would have been pound8ng and you would’ve had to scrape my jaw up from the bottom of that salty and sandy lake!

  8. LSClemens July 22, 2017 at 5:24 am

    Genetic? Do you think they’re all related?

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