Published On: Sat, Sep 20th, 2014

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND – THIS BIRD REMINDS ME OF THE SEPT. 2014 COVER OF HARPER’S BAZAAR MAGAZINE WITH EMMA FERRER: LEAST GREBE

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Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired”, zoologist, wildlife photographer, and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 53 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her column, published on the 7th and 21st of each month features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and beyond. Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo

Least Grebe

Least Grebe

Least Grebe, Tachybaptus dominicus, Zambulllidor Menor (Spanish) Xpatux ja (Mayan)

You say Patillo, I say Pittillo.

The first is a Spanish name for the Least Grebe, our smallest, swimming water bird. The second is my Scottish name which translates from the original Pettiloch to “foot of the lake”. When I began these columns two years ago, I never expected to find a derivative of my name for a bird. I know some Patillos who are featherless cousins of mine. Although the Least Grebe doesn’t live in Scotland, its feathered cousins do. I guess that’s a fair trade, but I digress.

My first impression of a swimming Least Grebe (greeb), a small, compact, plump water bird, reminded me of a softball covered in soft feathers.

Least Grebe reminds me of a softball covered with feathers

Least Grebe reminds me of a softball covered with feathers

Look how the Least Grebe motors along with its body above the water and its head down looking for food. This scubaless diver hunts below the surface for insect prey, small fish, and amphibians. Also it can feed on algae and other plants or pick off insects above the surface. When alarmed, it dives.

Least Grebe looks for prey before it dives. Note three lobed toes

Least Grebe looks for prey before it dives. Note three lobed toes

  Isn’t it easy to think this water-living species belongs in the duck family? Unlike ducks, the Least Grebe doesn’t have webbed feet or a wide, flattened duck bill.  Instead the narrow bill and individual lobed toes place it in a different family, the grebes. Its legs are set far back on the bird’s body as if an afterthought. The bird’s toes and leg position make it a powerful Olympian-like diver. Add sooty gray, silky plumage and yellow eyes to the mix and it’s not a duck.

Legs of the Least Grebe seemed positioned as an afterthought to its body

Legs of the Least Grebe seemed positioned as an afterthought to its body

Who would have thought this species sunbathes? When it tips up its wings, it exposes black skin that heats up like a solar patch to warm-up this underwater aquanaut.

A solar patch to warm up this aquanaut barely appears under the feather fluffiness

A solar patch to warm up this aquanaut barely appears under the feather fluffiness

Widespread in fresh/brackish environs such as ponds, lakes, marshes and ditches, it occurs from southern Texas to central Argentina, and the Greater Antilles. Prior to this summer I could find it here at Parque Kai Lu-um. A few years ago, I felt lucky to see two there, but recently I counted 15. Now one lone bird visits another city park, Parque Ecologico del Poniente (Parque Hundido).

Least Grebe, our smallest, swimming water bird

Least Grebe, our smallest, swimming water bird

Unlike my prior column about another water bird, **the Northern Jacana, where the female mates, lays eggs, and then departs to leave parenting duties to the male, the Least Grebe should receive the award for Best Dual Parenting Award.

The Least Grebe deserves the Best Parenting Award

The Least Grebe deserves the Best Parenting Award

During the Yucatan breeding season of February to June, both sexes build their anchored, but floating love nest together. Both take turns to incubate three to five eggs. In less than an hour after hatching, the chicks can climb and ride on one of their parent’s backs. The other adult then feeds the chicks on their lofty position. Parents can switch places and the chicks ride on their other “feathered float” and are fed by the other parent. Both adults raise their chicks.

This floating mat of vegetation hints at the nest of the Least Grebe

This floating mat of vegetation hints at the nest of the Least Grebe

Least Grebe chick chases a leaf only to learn a leaf isn't food

Least Grebe chick chases a leaf only to learn a leaf isn’t food

On a second thought, maybe Patillo/Pittillo fits together swimmingly because the Patillo as a bird does keep a foot (or two) in the lake.

SOUND LINK: http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/940

Go explore more in the outdoors.

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about this species. Here are my resources: Sal a Pajarear Yucatan, 100 Common Birds of the Yucatan Peninsula, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, Birds and Reserves of the Yucatan Peninsula, Life Histories of North American Marsh Birds, Lives of North American Birds, Southern Mexico, Birds of Costa Rica, A Neotropical Companion, Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behaviors, , http://macaulaylibrary.org/ Cornell Lab of Ornithology  

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Least_Grebe/id http://txtbba.tamu.edu/species-accounts/least-grebe/, http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1894/0038-4909-58.3.357http://www.birdzilla.com/birds/Least-Grebe.html?Itemid=1044, http://carolinabirds.org/HTML/WLD_Grebe.htmhttp://identify.whatbird.com/obj/1024/overview/Least_Grebe.aspx

 

 

 

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