Pied-billed Grebes at South Reesor Pond, Toronto

Pied-billed Grebes at South Reesor Pond, Toronto

Pied-billed Grebe at South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Ontario

Upon learning of a family of Pied-billed Grebes at South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Bob and I made it our destination for a late afternoon outing in hopes of getting a look at them.  What we found were two immature Grebes with a mother whose vocalizations kept the pair in check.

Trumpeter swans at South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Ontario

Also inhabiting the pond that afternoon was a pair of Trumpeter Swans, Ozzie and Harriet as they are fondly known, a pair of Common Mergansers, numerous Mallard Ducks,

Wood ducks at South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Ontario, Canada

and a trio of young Wood Ducks recently relocated from an unfavorable situation.

South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Ontario, Canada

South Reesor Pond, or Lower Reesor Pond as some know it, is located just north of the Toronto Zoo and is a relatively small pond that began life as a depression in a farmer’s field.  Totally naturalized now around the perimeter of the pond, it provides marvelous habitat for a variety of creatures.

Two immature Pied-billed Grebes at South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Ontario

For the most part, the immature Pied-billed Grebes kept their distance from the sandy point where Bob and I stood to observe the goings on, whereas the Mallards, Swans and Wood Ducks came looking for handouts.  The overall plumage of young Pied-billed Grebes quite resembles that of winter adults except they have black and white striped heads with a yellowish-orange patch on the crown and similarly coloured patch across the back of the head.

Female Pied billed Grebe with immature Pied-billed Grebes at South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Ontario

This female Grebe has not had an easy go of it this year.  Seen earlier in the season with a brood of five babies, those were attacked and killed by a male Grebe all within a 2-day period.  One birdwatcher at the pond witnessed a male Grebe in the act of drowning one of the babies, which is a common practice of this species during breeding season.  The female is still showing her breeding plumage, a pale bluish-grey bill banded with one vertical black stripe, a black patch on the throat, and to a lesser extent, the white eye ring that would’ve been more prominent earlier in the season.  By contrast, the young Grebe’s bill is pale orange.

Two immature Pied-billed Grebes at South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Ontario

The two immature Grebes remaining at the pond are the result of a second brood hatched by the female Pied-billed Grebe with the same mate, but sadly, 3 of those 5 most recent hatchlings were also brought to their demise, one attacked and killed by a male Grebe while it is thought that the other two succumbed to predation.  Oddly enough, all of the last five babies varied in size with one being almost as large as the hen.

Two immature Pied-billed Grebes at South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Ontario

Bob and I were patient as we lingered slightly hidden by bushes, but the Pied-billed Grebes did not offer to venture closer to the west side of the pond.  It was interesting to hear the unusual calls of the hen when she squawked her displeasure to the young ones.  They were demanding more food or were too adventurous for her liking.

Pied-billed Grebe at South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Ontario

A Pied-billed Grebe is a small water bird with a compact body and slender neck.  Matching its chunky body is the stout bill that is used to crush prey such as crustaceans and mollusks.  A wide variety of aquatic creatures make up their diet including fish, frogs and insects, but while we looked on, this female Grebe adroitly dove and returned to the surface repeatedly…

Pied-billed Grebe feeding juvenile grebe at South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Ontario

with a squirming leech clutched between her upper and lower beak.  It is fascinating to learn that, like a submarine, Pied-billed Grebes have the ability to adjust their buoyancy.  This is accomplished by trapping water in their feathers.  They either dive outright for food or use a controlled submersion.  This same technique is used to escape danger.  A Pied-billed Grebe will go as deep as 6 metres (20 ft) and remain submerged for about 30 seconds, while moving off to a protected area where it will rise to the surface and remain incognito with just its nostrils and eyes above the surface.

Pied-billed Grebe feeding juvenile grebe at South Reesor Pond in northeast Toronto, Ontario

Young Grebe nestlings have not learned this skill so must ride on one of their parent’s backs as they dive deep or grab onto the tail of an adult and be towed beneath the surface when danger threatens.  It is unfortunate that so many of the young Pied-billed Grebes at Lower Reesor Pond did not survive using these evasive measures, but often, attacks are made below the surface.  Still, we took solace is watching the two remaining immature Grebes as they chased one another around the pond, tried to guess where mom would pop up with the next tasty morsel, stretched their wings and generally enjoyed the freedom of their youth.  It seemed that nothing ominous lurked nearby that day.

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