Pied-billed Grebes (PBGR) are little grebes that are very widespread throughout the U.S.. Their name refers to the two-toned bill, which is especially obvious in adult breeding plumage: The word “pied” means 2 or more colors and is believed to derive from the black-and-white magpie. In October, 2007, a first-year PBGR in juvenal plumage made an unfortunate landing on an expanse of blacktop in the Denver area and was taken to the wildlife rehab center where I volunteer. Most likely, it had mistaken the pavement for a body of water; once it landed, it wasn’t able to take off again. (As with some other species of waterfowl such as loons, the PBGR’s legs are set very far back on its body. This makes for powerful propulsion when chasing fish under water. But it also makes walking on land almost impossible.) Still in what is called the “stripe-head” stage of plumage, the bird was a bit thin and had some “road rash” from what must have been a very rough landing. But otherwise, it was in good shape.
The staff kept it for a few days, giving it some easy meals to help fatten it up a bit—and then it was ready to be on its way. These adorable little swimmers occasionally nest in the reservoir across the street from our home in Lakewood (a western suburb of Denver). So I was authorized to release this little beauty in the reservoir across from us since a family of PBGRs had nested there that summer and at least one was still hanging around.
As I opened the carrier door and Zell prepared to snap some quick photos, I spotted the resident PBGR out in the middle of the lake. The juvenile hesitated for a few seconds in the crate and then did a run/flap/dash/tumble to the water’s edge about 1 foot away. As it completed a couple of quick circles in the water near the shore, I heard the resident PBGR call—coincidence? Beware? Welcome? Shout-out? Who knows. The juvenile paused briefly, headed straight for the resident grebe, and never looked back.
And that, my friends, is why we do rehab.
© 2009 Tina Mitchell