Grebe With A Big Fish And Two First-of-season Bird Species – Yay!

Grebes sometimes “bite off” more than they can chew.


pied-billed grebe 0438 ron dudley

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4l IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Occasionally I see a Pied-billed Grebe with a fish that’s apparently too big to swallow and I believe that to be the case with this bird, photographed at Farmington two days ago. When such a large fish has been freshly caught they’ll spend a long time on the surface trying to swallow it but I believe that this grebe had already tried and mostly given up on getting it down the hatch. But after all that work it just didn’t have the heart to release it which kind of reminded me some “catch and release” fishermen in the same situation…

I strongly suspect that the grebe was never able to swallow the fish but I don’t know for sure because…



pied-billed grebe 0445 ron dudley

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4l IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

just a few seconds later a gull with thievery in mind swooped down on the grebe so it dived with the fish to escape. I didn’t see it re-emerge with the fish. Gulls are habitual kleptoparasites of grebes and they regularly attempt to steal their fish. Just 13 minutes later I saw (and photographed poorly) a Ring-billed Gull almost land on top of a Clark’s Grebe as it attempted to steal the grebe’s fish but the grebe dived with it at the last split-second and avoided losing its prize.


The rest of this post may seem a little disjointed with the first part but I thought some photographers and birders might be interested in two sightings I had yesterday at Bear River MBR – both were my first-of-season sightings of returning migratory species that spend the winter in my area (northern Utah). The photos below are of documentary quality only.


rough-legged hawk 0652 ron dudley

The first was this beautiful dark morph Rough-legged Hawk that I was only able to photograph from a great distance.



tundra swan 0668 ron dudley

And the second was a small flock of Tundra Swans, though this frame shows only two of them.

I’m always delighted to see both of these species return and these sightings were especially exciting because they occurred within four minutes of each other and I was pretty much skunked for the rest of the morning at Bear River. For me that’s a long way to drive to come home empty…



27 comments to Grebe With A Big Fish And Two First-of-season Bird Species – Yay!

  • Susan Stone

    Love the Grebe photos, and am glad you got to see the other two species. Even though the Rough-legged Hawk photo was taken from a distance, I still love the coloration/pattern detail that is visible in the photo (this is a species I’m not likely to see in the wild).

  • Judy Gusick

    Beautiful pictures, Ron. Love the swans in flight as well as the hawk. Amazing that the grebes don’t choke on large fish! 🙂 The previous posts were enlightening as well as entertaining. 🙂

  • Roger Burnard

    Yes Ron you do deserve the accolades, and more, and after some 81+ years on this earth
    I have learned something about what makes a “super teacher,” and you are one. I also
    think that all those faithful followers of your blog will agree with me. Not sure if you wear
    a hat, but maybe I better cease, and desist before you get “too swelly headed.” Ha…
    Take care now, ya hear, be safe, and stay well… ;-)))

  • Roger Burnard

    Ron, as an old biology teacher myself, I always appreciated it when my students recognized, and appreciated my efforts.
    You are a superb teacher Ron, and I for one just wanted to make sure that you know how much all of us appreciate your
    incredible images, and the way you take the time, and make the effort to respond, and enlighten us with your caption
    information, and in your responses. You are indeed a master photographer/teacher!!!

  • I think all of us bite off more than we can chew some days. And strongly resist others ‘help’ with our prize.
    Yay for roughies and swans.
    Is Windows 10 treating you any better, or do I have to look up the dictionary for those naughty words?

    • EC, I’m still attempting to work out the problem but right now it’s looking like it’s more likely that Adobe is the problem instead of Microsoft. Right now I’m not a fan of Adobe. One of their major field offices is just a few miles from me and I’m tempted to… no, better not go there.

  • Roger Burnard

    Ron…. Just wanted to complement you on the conscientious way you respond to all the comments that
    come into your blog… your commitment as a true teacher keeps showing through… good show Ron,
    good show. ;-)))

    • I appreciate that you noticed, Roger. I do try to reply to each comment if it’s made on the day I publish the post but I often just don’t have time to respond to comments made on older posts.

      I figure if folks can take the time to comment it’s the least I can do to acknowledge their effort and input.

  • Patty Chadwick

    An interesting collection…alwayssurprised at the size of some of the fish grebes and other wayerfowl capture and try to swallow….looks like certain death….to the bird!!!

  • Dick Ashford

    Hi Ron,
    Thanks, Ron.

    Maybe it’s “documentary quality only” to you, but that’s a great picture of a beautiful dark roughie! Having said that, “beautiful dark roughie” may be a redundant term! Those of us in raptor-rich southern OR are still looking for our first-of-season, so “your” bird provided a nice wakeup this morning. And a motivation – I was going to watch my alma mater play on TV, but maybe I’ll hit the “record” button and go look for that Rough-legged Hawk…

    • “maybe I’ll hit the “record” button and go look for that Rough-legged Hawk”

      Ha, that’s a sign of a pure raptorphile, Dick. I always figured you as one but now it’s confirmed!

      Good luck on your roughie quest!

  • Laura Culley

    OK, so now you’ve brought up a question. What do the grebes do if they can’t swallow their catch? Do they ultimately release (let go of) it, giving up? Or do they bring it closer to the shore or something else above water and take it apart into smaller pieces that they CAN swallow? I have trouble believing that they’d just give up, but I come from raptor land where that’s not an option. Fascinating birds, now that you’ve brought my attention to them. And ain’t birds, the whole lot of them, just WONDERFUL?

    • Laura, I’ve seen this species (several times) dive with a fish that was too large to swallow and come back up without it so presumably they released it underwater (though they were already dead). I’m virtually certain that in those cases the fish wasn’t swallowed underwater.

      I’ve never seen a PB Grebe dismember a fish before eating it, though I have seen them do that to frogs. Presumably the difference is that the frog has limbs that are easy to grab and tear off with (very) violent shaking but the body of a fish is just too compact to dismember easily.

      They also sometimes dismember crayfish before swallowing the parts but of course crayfish have many appendages to grasp and shake with.

      They don’t come to shore to consume their food. They’re extremely clumsy on land and almost never leave the water. Besides, their feet are too far back on their body to use in conjunction with their bills to dismember prey. The only time I’ve seen one of these grebes leave the water with prey was (once) one of them came up onto ice to evade another grebe that was trying to steal its fish. It was hilarious watching that grebe on a solid substrate – it could barely stand, much less walk.

      Here’s a couple of older posts on the subject that might be of interest to you:

  • Zaphir Shamma

    As a newbie to photography and wildlife, I have loads of excitement, yet little knowledge or experience. Stories of interactions and relationships (such as the Pied-billed Grebe & the gull) are something I wasn’t aware of. While I was drawn to your blog by your photos, I find the explanations of the photos equally as rewarding. Thank you 🙂

    • Your excitement and enthusiasm will likely lead to that knowledge and experience, Zaphir. I appreciate what you said about the “explanations” I provide in my blog.

  • Dick Harlow

    The Roughies are back!!!! I expect and are looking forward to many beautiful Rough-legged Hawk views this winter.
    We’re impatiently waiting for Roughies and Snowy’s here in middle Vermont, one of those winter look forward to moments.

    I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve seen Tundra Swans – great bird!

    Thanks for sharing.

    • You sound as excited about the return of the roughies as I am, Dick. We have lots of Tundra’s around here in winter – perhaps you’ll have to pay us a visit one day.

      • Dick Harlow

        Now wouldn’t that be a kick! Even though I live in the northern part of the US, and would absolutely love to visit, traveling across to Utah in winter is not my cup of tea. But, who knows what might happen come spring and summer? VBG!!