Western Grebe Swallowing A Crayfish

Western Grebes are almost exclusively fish-eaters but yesterday morning at Bear River MBR I photographed one consuming a crayfish (a crustacean).


western grebe 1016 ron dudley

 1/1000, f/7.1 ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I’ve been photographing Western Grebes for almost eight years now and this is the first one I’ve ever seen eating anything other than a fish (though I have seen them consuming feathers which are a dietary aid for them rather than a food item).



western grebe 1032 ron dudley

  1/800, f/7.1 ISO 640, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

It maneuvered the crayfish so it went down “tail”-first, probably to accommodate the awkward angle and large size of the chelipeds or claws (most prey items that are swallowed whole are swallowed head-first).  The bird struggled a little to get it down but not much.

After seeing this feeding episode I wondered just how unusual this food item was so I did a little research.  The Birds of North America Online (Cornell) has this to say about the diet of Western Grebes: “Fish reported to compose 81%  to virtually 100% of diet.”   Because of their fish-laden diet pellet casting in Western Grebes is unusual.  It’s thought that when it does occur it probably does so with individual birds who have been eating invertebrates with chitinous exoskeletons (like crayfish).

I’ve photographed a variety of other species casting pellets and from my research I now know the behavior that immediately precedes pellet casting in Western Grebes (several drinking movements) so I’ve got to admit that I’ll now be looking for the very long-shot opportunity to photograph one of these birds casting a pellet.  After all, I once photographed a Western Kingbird casting a pellet and at the time BNA said that they had “no information” on that behavior with the species.



13 comments to Western Grebe Swallowing A Crayfish

  • Beautiful bird and superb images! I just can’t believe he enjoyed a crawdad without hot sauce. 🙂
    I’ll stay tuned for the pellet casting photo.

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful shots Ron! Thanks for sharing!

  • Susan Stone

    If it’s an unusual behavior, chances seem to be good that you will catch it with your camera at some point. I have confidence in your ability to see it and photograph it. And I’m looking forward to seeing the results. 🙂 I’m glad these Grebes know which direction to swallow their food in…

  • Patty Chadwick

    Ellie Baby,Ron…thanks for good wishes Re Health…am MUCH better now, but felt really fried for awhile….Dr. Wasn’t even sure what kind of bug it was…was able to go to studio and paint today for first tome in weeks (almostt 4!)..found out that a friend had the same thing and her doctor wasn’t sure what it was, either…not the reg. flu, but more much than a reg. cold…is somewhat similar to pneumonia and can be confused with it….it’s upper respitory…ex non-stop, wrenching coughing day and night for at least week or two without let up (or sleep!)…When fever breaks you end up drenched in sweat…weird, repetitive “busy dreams” seem to be part of it…It leaves you very, very weak..the worst of it lasts about two to two and a half weeks…..it’s NOT something you throw antibiotics at, because it’s viral, NOT bacterial…in fact antibiotics can throw off, even kill, the good bacteria in your gut, the ones that are doing their darndest to fight off the bad guys…if you knock off the good guy bacteria, the bad guys take over and the toxins they produce can cause you REAL trouble….it’s no joke! Both of us were put on probiotics to beef up the good guys and give them a better chance to win the war! They’re working on it. Neither of us are 100% yet, but we’re both a lot better and no longer infectious. Her brother, a commercial pilot ( international flights) also had it. I’m sharing this to say “thank you” ,but also because IT’S SO IMPORTANT NOT TO TAKE ANTIBOTICS UNLESS YOU KNOW YOU HAVE A BACTERIAL PROBLEM!!!

    • Susan Stone

      Amen, Patty!! Thanks for the rant about antibiotics. I wish more people understood that. I feel for you with that illness. I caught what I thought was a cold near the end of our recent cruise, probably courtesy of a passenger who boarded in Cape Town, South Africa, and that thing hung on for several weeks, with plenty of coughing (probably at least in part asthmatic for me), and I’m still not completely over it. I’m glad to know you’re getting so much better. I think that the older we get, the harder it is to deal with these nasty illnesses, and I also think the illnesses are getting nastier. It seems to me that I’ve heard that inappropriate use of antibiotics contributes to that…

  • As always, amazing shots of fascinating behaviour. And now you have set yourself a new challenge. And a doozy of a challenge at that.

  • Patty Chadwick

    That should be some pellet! The “Crust”part of crustacean, says it all. Part of my recent, plane-acquired illness involved a very, very sore throat….everything I swallowed, including apple sausce and ice cream, felt like a crayfish, or some other crustacesn. That Must have been a very uncomfortable meal….I wonder if he ever ate another one.

    • Ouch. I can remember a lurgy I caught when even a jam sandwich felt like it had bones in it. I hope your illness is in the past and you have stopped that delightful ‘gargling with gravel’ feeling.

    • Patty, I knew you’d been sick but that sore throat sounds like it was a real doozy. Sure hope it’s far behind you now.

  • Dick Harlow

    Fantastic as usual Ron! Great shots of the Grebe! I like em all, and especially the Kingbird. That is a wonderful series the attitude of each shot, the light and clarity are absolutely wonderful! I am slowly moving over to use your camera settings on my shots! You are the man, the mentor, the professor, just wish I had those wide open spaces so I could use my truck as a blind. But, we’re dealing.

    • I appreciate the kind words, Dick, And yes, the “wide open spaces” are very helpful for shooting birds from a vehicle. I think it’s a good thing I live in an area that has them…