A Brief But Aggressive Encounter Between Pied-Billed Grebes

/, Pied-billed Grebes, Salt Lake County, Utah/A Brief But Aggressive Encounter Between Pied-Billed Grebes

Two Pied-billed Grebes fightingTwo Pied-billed Grebes fighting – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

I was sitting in a “mobile blind” at the local pond yesterday afternoon photographing the few birds that were close to the shoreline. People and fishermen kept walking by and that was keeping the birds further away from the shore than I would have liked. The light was beautiful because for a change the sky was clear due to the snow storm the day before cleaning the crud out of the air. I really, really wanted one of the Common Goldeneyes on the pond to come closer and perform a courtship display but that was not to be. Too much human activity kept them on the other side of the pond.

I watched and photographed the gulls in flight, the coots and grebes feeding and chasing each other, the ducks bathing and a few geese taking off but nothing very exciting was happening. I’d basically been skunked up in Box Elder County during the morning and I thought I was pretty much going to be skunked close to home too.

That was until I saw water splashing with bubbles coming to the surface of the pond not too far from the shore so I quickly I turned my lens that way even though I didn’t know what was happening at that point but I sure wanted to see what was going on.

Then I saw two Pied-billed Grebe heads break the surface of the water and realized that they were fighting and that the top grebe had a death grip on the other grebe’s neck with it’s bill.

Pied-billed Grebes in a territorial disputePied-billed Grebes in a territorial dispute – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

Because the aggressive Pied-billed Grebe kept shoving the other grebe’s head under the water I was only able to take a few photos that were sharp and showed both birds eyes that weren’t obscured by splashing water covering up the action. I’ve photographed Pied-billed Grebes being aggressive before but those encounters usually ended with chases and not the degree of physical contact I saw and photographed yesterday.

I don’t know for sure what caused this aggressive behavior between these two grebes yesterday because I wasn’t watching them prior to seeing the splashing water and bubbles of air on the surface of the pond. I really don’t like making assumptions but this interaction may have been caused by one grebe moving into the other grebe’s territory.

Pied-billed Grebe fleeing an aggressive grebePied-billed Grebe fleeing an aggressive grebe – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light

On BNA I found this brief notation of this type of behavior in Pied-Billed Grebes:

Jabs with bill, trying to get hold of opponent’s nape or feathers behind eyes. Occasionally fighting birds stand vertically in water, necks stretched up, trying to grasp each others’ bills (J. Fjeldså pers. comm.). Prevailing bird tries to push opponent under water, with much water-splashing from feet and wing action. As birds struggle, defending bird usually is partly or wholly on top. Birds may dive and resurface until intruding bird struggles free and escapes.

The grebe that was being attacked did manage to free itself from the grip of the defending grebe and it escaped by moving away from the aggressor as quickly as it could.

This aggressive encounter between the two Pied-billed Grebes only lasted a few seconds and if I hadn’t been paying attention I would have missed photographing it.

Life is good.



  1. Patty Chadwick one of my favorite birds December 18, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Elle Baby said ot all…..

  2. Utahbooklover December 18, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    Very interesting series. Curious to hear them, I found this video taken in Maine:

  3. Marty K December 18, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    Wow! I’ve never seen birds “in fisticuffs” in quite that way before. Such a fascinating series! Definitely a mix of being in the right place at the right time and having the amazing skill to make the most of it! 🙂

  4. Ken Schneider December 18, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Wow– I have never seen them come to blows, but only casing and flapping wings.Great timing (and luck!). Shooting blindly produced results.

  5. Elephants Child December 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Wow. What an amazing thing to see – and capture.

  6. M. Bruce December 18, 2017 at 11:24 am

    Great series of non-lethal territorial aggression Mia. I photographed a Pied-billed Grebe last summer after first hearing their amazing call.

  7. April Olson December 18, 2017 at 10:51 am

    Great captures. We have had sparrows kill each other over disputes in our mew. People say animals don’t kill there own kind like people do , I say you don’t know animals then!

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