A pied-billed grebe surfaces beside melting ice at Rest Lake in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Unlike the melting sea ice, the melting lake ice isn’t alarming, as during our mild winters it rarely freezes in the first place. A cold snap froze some of the shallower and smaller lakes and ponds, but it was nothing compared to the snowstorm that in a week would bury us first in heavy snow then thick ice when it melted and re-froze.
I’ve hoped to photograph pied-billed grebe chicks each spring, as their fantastic faces look nothing like the birds they will become, but this is the first year I’ve had the chance. The two parents had a handful of chicks and were busy feeding them, catching a variety of underwater creatures and feeding them to the hungry chicks. It seemed to me the adults were killing their prey before handing it off to the youngsters, but even so the chicks often dropped their food into the water as they learned to move items about in their bills. The adult was always nearby if necessary to retrieve the food, but in this case the chick was able to pluck it from the water on its own.
Another reward for spending all of Mother’s Day at Ridgefield was a chance to photograph this pied-billed grebe in breeding plumage in Long Lake. These grebes are so commonly seen at Ridgefield that it’s a rare visit when I don’t spot one, but they are both small and shy and thus have generally eluded my lens. I got some nice pictures of them this winter, but on this day I got my opportunity to photograph one with a pied bill (they only have it in their breeding plumage).
And to top it off it’s doing my favorite pied-billed trait, sinking slowly into the water before diving!
There is an audio guide that goes along with the auto tour at Ridgefield, and while the audio at this point is difficult to make out it seems to me they suggest that the pied-billed name comes from the black ring on the bill resembling a pie stain (such as you might find ringing a child’s mouth after it eats a piece of pie). I’m not sure if I’m not hearing it correctly or if they are being a bit tongue-in-cheek (not that I would ever do such a thing here!), but I believe the name comes from the old English usage meaning black-and-white (as in the magpie), and which eventually came to mean multi-colored.