About 22-29 inches (55-73 cm) long, the longest of the grebes.
The crown and back of neck are black, the back is brownish-gray,
the underparts are white, the inner web of wing quills is white.
The neck is long and slender. The female is slightly smaller than
the male (Ligon, 1961). The bill is long, greenish-yellow with a
dark ridge down the center (Peterson, 1990). The toes are lobed
with flattened claws adapted for strong swimming and diving.
There is a negligible tail (Leahy, 1982).
Aechmophorus occidentalis is a water nesting bird (Perrins
and Middleton, 1985), living in rushy lakes and sloughs. During
the winter, bays and oceans are inhabited (Peterson, 1990).
This species is found primarily from southeastern Alaska eastward
through south-central British Columbia, central Alberta, central
Saskatchewan, and southwestern Manitoba south to southern
California, north-central Utah, southwestern Colorado,
southwestern and northeastern New Mexico, western Nebraska,
northwestern Iowa and western Minnesota. It also occurs locally
in Mexico from Chihuahua and Durango south to northern Guerrero,
Puebla, and San Luis Potosi. This species winters along the
Pacific coast from southern British Columbia, Utah, Colorado, New
Mexico, and western and southern Texas south to southern Baja
California, northern Guerrero, Puebla, and San Luis
Potosi(American Ornithologists' Union, 1983).
The Western Grebe is carnivorous, eating mostly insects and fish
along with some mollusks and crustaceans. They spear fish with
their dagger-shaped bills (Perrins and Middleton, 1985).
Courtship behavior involves complex sequences of elaborate,
ritualized postures. The timing of breeding is dependent upon a
good food supply more than a specific time or season. There are
usually 2-6 white or cream colored eggs. The incubation period is
20-30 days. The nests are mounds of aquatic vegetation, usually
found in emergent weeds (Perrins and Middleton, 1985). Both
parents carry their young on their backs, even while diving, in
order to rest them and as a quick escape in times of danger
A. occidentalis has some 20,000 feathers to keep it warm
and dry. Since their feet are located far back on their body,
they have a very difficult time walking; in fact, they often
fall. The ankle and toe joints are very flexible, allowing them
to both paddle and steer at the same time. Dives may last 10-40
seconds. Due to their wing shape, long and thin, they need a long
take-off run across water to become airborne. They fly quickly
with rapid wing beats, but with trailing feet. They maneuver
poorly in flight (Perrins and Middleton, 1985).
American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Check-list of North
American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, 877 pp.
Leahy, C. 1982. The birdwatcher's companion: an encyclopedic
handbook of North American birdlife. Hill and Wang, New York, 917
Ligon, J.S. 1961. New Mexico birds and where to find them. The
University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 360 pp.
Perrins, C.M. and A.L.A. Middleton, ed. 1985. The encyclopedia of
birds. Equinox, Ltd., Oxford, 447 pp.
Peterson, R.T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton
Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.
Mary Kirschenbaum, July 1996.