This is one of the most unusual and amusing bird behaviors I’ve ever photographed. And it was completely unexpected.
Generally I try to avoid “cutesy” titles but this time I couldn’t resist…
I’d actually forgotten about these images until a couple of days ago when I stumbled across them while looking for something else. I posted both of them years ago (June 6, 2012) but I thought they were worth another look because most of my current blog readers have never seen them or heard of the behavior.
Both sexes of Clark’s Grebes brood their chicks on their backs (back brooding) and I’ve often seen as many as three youngsters on the back of an adult at the same time. But when they get this big it’s next to impossible to fit even two of them there so one is tagging along and waiting for its turn.
But the chick on its parent’s back is having a blast! Look carefully – those paddling, splashing legs belong to the chick and not the adult. The youngster is the outboard motor for both birds and they’re going at a pretty good clip.
From just one image some might think the chick is just pushing against the water to get further up onto the back of the parent but that’s not the case.
Seven clicks later in this much better image the youngster is still paddling away and seeming to enjoy the speed and the ride (they left the other chick behind pretty quickly).
In many hundreds of hours of observing Western and Clark’s Grebes I’ve never seen this behavior before or since. It reminded me a little of a human parent allowing their young child to sit on his/her lap and “drive” the family car for the first time and I got a huge kick out of it.
I adore the second image because it combines my two primary photographic goals in the same shot – a high quality image with good light, eye contact from both birds, sharpness, good detail and a pleasing setting – plus fascinating behavior. For me it doesn’t get much better than that but then I’m a fanatic about behaviors.
There’s always something new to learn when you spend time with birds and pay attention.
PS – Sorry there are no image techs. When I first started blogging I’d “save for web” instead of “save as” when I processed and saved an image. Saving for web strips out exif data and I didn’t have time to go back and look for the original RAW images in my backup files.