Another Pied-billed Grebe With Yet Another Crayfish

Crayfish seem to be the preferred meal of Pied-billed Grebes at a local pond near my home.

Five days ago I posted photos of two Pied-billed Grebes with crayfish prey and illustrated how they deal with the threatening claws of the “crawdads”. Late yesterday afternoon I had another opportunity with the same predator/prey combination at the same pond and this time I was even closer to the action.

 

1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Typical of their modus operandi this bird tore off the claws first. Here it’s about to rip off the right claw but not before…

 

 

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

the crayfish made an apparent attempt to defensively pinch the bird’s jaw with the left one.

 

 

I always enjoy a closer look at the action (I can’t resist noting that I got a catch light in the eye of both predator and prey…).

 

 

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

The bird turned slightly away from me while it amputated the claws so I didn’t get a very good look at its surgical technique.

 

 

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Ok, both claws have apparently been removed. Crayfish have 5 pairs of walking legs, only one of which has large threatening claws (two of the other pairs have only tiny harmless pincers and the other two have no pincers at all) and typically this species would now swallow the crayfish since the potentially dangerous claws are gone and the smaller walking legs fold against the body as the crayfish is swallowed tail first.

But this bird didn’t read the book.

 

 

1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

It continued to tear off some of the smaller walking legs. Here it grabbed one of them in its bill and shook its head violently…

 

 

1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

which tore the leg from the body as the rest of the crayfish went flying through the air. The leg remains in the bill of the grebe.

 

 

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

The grebe retrieved the clawless crayfish from the water,

 

 

1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

grabbed another beak-full of more walking legs…

 

 

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

and shook violently to tear them off.

 

 

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

But then a marauding gull came along and ruined all the fun. The gull dived on the grebe several times, forcing it to submerge and swallow the crayfish underwater. The grebe dove with the crayfish a split-second after this photo was taken.

 

 

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Apparently that crayfish was the grebe’s dessert because as soon as it surfaced, sans crayfish, it began an extended grooming session (lasting over four minutes) that ended with…

 

 

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

a drawn-out wing and leg stretch. Then it appeared to take a little nap as it began to digest its meal.

This bird saved my day. Due to a continuing winter inversion the air in our valleys is thick and putrid with fog and pollution so extended birding trips are out of the question unless I head to the mountains where this time of year birds are even more scarce than they are down here. And forecasters are now saying the inversion might continue for weeks.

It’s truly depressing.

Ron

 

32 comments to Another Pied-billed Grebe With Yet Another Crayfish

  • Judy Gusick

    Excellent sequence and commentary, Ron……:) This grebe was obviously not taking any chances! Perhaps you’ll catch the swallowing another day…… We’ve been relatively warm and, of course, windy. No precip which we could use and hoping no fires get going. One near by a couple of days after Thanksgiving at a shooting range that got a bit dicey for some folks. This summer with the smoke and fires was NOT pleasant. Fortunately, with our wind, inversions are VERY rare and certainly not anything like what you and CA get. 🙁 Hope it clears out soon………..

  • I suspect if my dinner tried to bite me I would rip all of its legs off too. Take that. And so there.
    I hope the fires can be contained and your air improved. Quickly.

    • Marty K

      Southern California might as well be Oz right now, not the northern hemisphere — upper 80s/low 90s with hot, dry winds. At least you have some rain in your forecast for the week, although that doesn’t usually cool things off for you guys, from what I understand.

  • Great series and commentary Ron! I also grew up in the L.A. area in the 50s but we never missed recess. I still recall days when the smog was so bad it would sting my eyes and if I took a deep breath I would get a painful feeling in my lungs! So the Salt Lake City area was a welcome change in 1960. However I have seen it gradually become more and more like my old L.A. days, including terrible traffic. 😪 And I recall the warm and strong Santa Ana winds but not anything like the horrible fires of late.

    • My strongest memories (I was a kid) of that So Cal smog is of driving down from the clear air of Montana and dropping into that pea soup as you drove down into the San Bernardino area from Vegas. It was awful looking. Once we got down into it we got just a little bit used to it after a while…

  • Laura Culley

    It’s always amazed me that people aren’t moved to action when they can’t see their mountains (for those who have mountains). Yes, I know inversions happen and you can’t do much about that, HOWEVER, when it’s mixed with man-made pollution, you might think about doing something to FIX that part of the problem. All capitalistic arguments aside, you’re BREATHING that stuff. Maybe it’s just me, huh?
    Anyway, I loved this behavioral series and what interesting behavior to amputate the legs. But you know they’re really called crawfish or mud bugs! I might have wrestled that one from the grebe, boiled it in Zataran’s crab boil along with some taters and had a feast! Nah, I’d have caught my own, but boiled crawfish are a major treat. I learned that living near New Orleans for three years! Marty knows what I mean. Yeah buddy! They’re a lot of work, but the work is worth it.
    Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger with getting skunked. Jack and I have a skunk monkey on our backs that just won’t leave us alone. I can’t believe it, but we haven’t caught ONE of the pesky wabbits that live around here. Since I can’t hunt the bunnies by the houses, what have I done? Of COURSE, I’m feeding them now. Of COURSE! Dissociative personality disorder…LOL!
    As for the raging fires in S. California, this is just horrific in its impact. I know there will be positives of some sort or other, but it’s really hard to see them right now. I weep for those involved, including those with four legs or wings, wild and otherwise.
    WOW! I don’t know what happened but I hit some key or other and the computer started reading everything on your blog aloud. And I couldn’t stop it. So I restarted your blog, rewrote what I wrote and stopped the previous blog window. COMPUTERS are EVIL! I’ve been wrestling with my computer the past couple of days, which is why I’ve been absent. I finally got one problem sorted out late last night (about 11 p.m.), but now other problems have surfaced. I’d have been happy with a draw, but no, I remain a computer loser! DARGH!

    • Wow, a computer reading aloud to you, unwanted. Can’t think of many things more annoying than that.

      Come to think of it, yes I can…

      Thanks, Laura.

      • Laura Culley

        Yeah, the can’t-see-your-mountains thing is WAY more annoying!! I’d have to do something about that!

        • Marty K

          The weird thing for me, Laura, is that our mountains are coming in clear as a bell. Even though they’re about 30-40 miles away, they look like they’re at the end of the street.

          Just one more reminder for everyone who has pets, make sure you include them in your emergency plans and have extra crates/leashes/harnesses for them. Plus, if you own horses or livestock, PLEASE practice trailering them regularly onto a variety of trailers so that they’re used to getting into any kind (and can be handled by multiple people). I don’t even want to begin thinking about the loss of wildlife — both now and when the inevitable mudslides come.

          To end on a happier note: yes, a good crawfish boil or étouffée is one of life’s pleasures. I like corn and Andouille along with my bugs and taters.

    • Whole hearted (conservatively speaking about 1000000 per cent) agreement on the pollution front. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, or how shiny the gadgets we still need to breathe. And yes, I know that part of the problem is that those who make the money/own the factories live elsewhere but us shiny gadget owners need to speak up. And change.
      And hiss and spit on the computer front. Mine is working. Sort of. When it feels like it. And yes I do know that by owning/using a computer I am a part of the problem.

      • So, a slight improvement in our air! If I look straight up I can now (2:43 PM) see some blue sky up there. Not much but it’s better than none (though it won’t last long…).

  • Pat Henson

    Oops, I meant to comment on the weather conditions. When I hear about inversions it brings me back to growing up in Pasadena, CA when we had many school days in which we could not go outside for recess or PE but instead had to lie down on the gym floor because of the smog alerts! When you watch the Rose Parade on TV you notice the beautiful mountains in the background. January 1st was usually like that, while most of the year we who lived near to the base of those mountains could not even see them! The usual fires created by the Santa Ana winds left thick layers of ash on our lawns.

    It is awful that the rest of the country is now experiencing that misery and the horrible fires are making life so much more difficult!

    Who thinks climate change is a hoax?

  • Susan Stone

    When I was reading the part about the bird ripping off the claws, it made me stop to think about how one could do that without hands… Clearly these birds are smart enough to accomplish what they need to without all the complicating appendages that we need for achieving the same ends. I think we humans have outsmarted ourselves by making life so complicated, though I’m sure we get more pleasure out of life than most creatures, if we so choose. I’m sorry about your weather woes. We are actually having great weather down here, and the birds aren’t bad, either. We actually saw our first Golden Eagle on Saturday…

  • Dick Harlow

    Wonderful behavior shots Ron, much appreciated.
    We are now getting a cold snap plus light snow and lake affect snow. We have very light snow before this year, but then the temperature would fluctuate and everything would melt. Our snowfall will be between 3-6 inches and temperatures between 10-32 degrees with winds 15-20. Not an enjoyable time to be trying to take pictures.
    However, my prayers go out to the people of southern CA who have to deal with the horrific wind driven fires. It is hard to appreciate the destructiveness a fire can do to a community unless you have been through a similar situation.

  • Pat Henson

    What fun to watch! Do other water birds do this as well? Fascinating!

    • Pat, If you’re talking about eating crayfish I’m sure some of them do but this is the only species I’ve seen eat them. I suspect many species of herons do too, among others. If you’re only referring to taking off the claws first, I don’t know.

  • Marty K

    Personally, I prefer my crayfish in a boil and I take the head off first, but to each his own. 😉

    I totally get it on the weather frustrations. It’s been 40+ degree swings between day and night. Plus, we’re under a red flag warning for the foreseeable future. I feel so bad for all the people dealing with the fires down here.

  • I identify with the crayfish these days…

  • Very sorry to hear that, Patty.

  • DianefromZion

    I regret your weather woes and sympathize. Air quality all over the US will be impacted by all the smoke from the fires. As to the Grebe:perhaps some of the leg ripping behavior was release of extra angst because the critters don’t enjoy weather woes either…cold enough here in NE Illinois for the “squeaky snow” today! Thank you for my early bird class, Teach.

  • April Olson

    Fun to watch. Park City had temperatures of 56 degrees yesterday. I will be in Park City late this afternoon at the National Ability Center where I take a young man I care for to horseback ride. I am looking forward to bluer skies.

  • Judy Eberspaecher

    Ron, you seem to always find something interesting and inspiring no matter where you are.