I’m always intrigued by bird behaviors, especially when it’s something new that I can’t explain or find in the literature.
In the spring during pair bond formation Western Grebes are well-known for long bouts of “mate feeding” where the male repeatedly dives and captures a fish and then delivers it to the female waiting on the surface. I’ve seen and photographed the behavior dozens of times. While both birds are on the surface the female begs loudly for food but when the fish is delivered she swallows it almost immediately and then when the male dives for another fish her begging stops until he resurfaces again.
But ten days ago at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge I photographed a variation of this behavior that I had never seen before and can’t find described in the literature.
I believe the slightly larger male is the bird on the left. By the time I started snapping photos he had apparently already given the fish to the female on the right. When I’ve observed this behavior in the past the female has always swallowed the fish almost immediately but this time she gave it back to the male, as she’s doing here.
Here the male has the fish again.
But then he gave it back to the female.
She held on to it for a moment…
and then returned it to the male.
Then back to the female again.
Then back to the male…
who apparently decided that if she didn’t want it…
he’d gobble it down.
In the past every time I’ve seen mate feeding behavior the female has swallowed the fish almost immediately after delivery and I don’t believe there’s ever been any swapping of the food. This time the fish was passed back and forth between the two birds 6-8 times before the male finally swallowed it (instead of the female, which is typical). I have no idea why the fish was swapped so many times or why it was the male that ate it instead of the female. A wild guess might be that the female was already full from previous mate feedings but that’s nothing more than pure speculation.
Regular readers know that I’m fascinated by bird behaviors and when I observe something new and unexplained (to me at least) my curiosity often gets the best of me – to the point that I actually wish I could approach the birds and ask them “Why did you DO that?”
If only birds could talk…