Can’t We Go Any Faster, Dad?

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.



37 comments to Can’t We Go Any Faster, Dad?

  • Jean Haley

    That is so cute. Both of the birds have a smile on their face. I like the reflections in the pictures as well. Thanks Ron!

  • Dick Harlow

    Great shot Ron, love how the older chick is pushing Dad o move faster!
    Too bad you could widen out and show how far behind the younger kid was left.

  • Judy C

    That is so surprising! I never would have known that had you not pointed it out! Thanks

  • Diane Bricmont

    Papa as pool noodle! What a great catch!

  • HUGE smiles.
    I loved the reflections in both images too, while feeling a bit sorry for the ‘wait for me’ chick left far behind.

  • Chris Sanborn

    “Faster, Daddy, faster!” That’s what we used to say when our dad would floor the old ’57 Ford on a long stretch of deserted highway during our family trips from California to Canada. Back then there were lots of deserted highways. But I digress. Anyway, your title is perfect for this wonderful pair of images, such a delightful way to start the morning! I don’t really know much about water birds, so always enjoy your photos with descriptions of their behaviors and features.

    • Chris, Your comment brought back memories. When I was a little kid back in the early 50’s we lived in southern CA in winter and Montana in summer. We drove that road many dozens of times – highway 91. Today it’s I-15 but in some parts of MT old 91 still exists, though mostly unused/abandoned. I photograph birds from old highway 91 often when I’m in Montana and I’ve posted many of those photos here.

      • Levi V.

        Montana in summer and(low elevation) Southern CA in winter: what a perfect combination! You avoid 120 degree heat in one place and -30 degree cold in another! But I don’t think it used to be as hot down here… Each year hotter than the next. But so long as it’s not humid, count me in! The hotter the better!

  • Dianne

    A mint shot that second one, Ron. I love the spot of light in the adult’s eye, the shadowing on it’s head and neck, and the colors of junior’s legs. All that special detail coupled with the unique rippling of water and ruffling of feathers and splashing of legs brings this shot into reality for the viewer. This shot needs to be shared with the rest of the world. Nice!

  • Patty Chadwick

    This is hilarious!!! As farvas funny animal shots go, I’d give it a 10!!!!

  • Pretty darned adorable! Thanks for sharing again!

  • Marty K

    Gosh, those are some big chick feet! I feel sort of bad for the sibling left in the wake, even though I can totally hear the first chick saying wheeeeeee! 🙂

    Your description reminds me of my dad letting me steer and shift (he had an old Falcon with 3-on-the-tree) when I was very little and we lived in the mountains. It had to be our secret because we both knew that if my mom found out he was letting a 4-year-old “drive” she’d have his head on a platter! I, of course, loved being in cahoots with my dad.

  • Kris Eberhard

    Just LOVED these images—you have the eye of a scientist, in that you rarely take for granted that you already know what you’re looking at, and so really see it as it is–often something
    truly surprising–as in a chick -as – outboard – motor !

  • That’s adorable! I can see why you couldn’t resist the title.

  • gisele

    What awesome images…love the story captions also.

  • Wait – I take it back… I see the youngster’s head was fully emerged in both shots. Well, clearly time for some coffee…

  • Charlotte Norton

    Wonderful shots Ron!


  • Judy Gusick

    Cool, Ron! 🙂 Brought a huge smile to my face. With mergansers the mother does all the work but the same “egg beater” thing goes on when they all take off on the creek 100 mph churning up the water before they are able to fly. Being able to catch the detail and get eye contact is great – I usually get butts! 🙂