Sunday Faux Duck o’ the Week

November 15, 2020 • 8:00 am

Today biologist John Avise continues his series on faux ducks: birds that people think are ducks but aren’t. Your job is to guess the species, and then go below the fold to see the ID, some Fun Faux Duck Facts, and a range map. John’s captions are indented:

Breeding plumage:

Another bird in breeding plumage:

Winter plumage:

Another bird in winter plumage:

“High stern” look:

Pair showing basic and alternate plumages:

Flock in winter:

Readying to surface dive:

Surface diving:

Swimming underwater:


Head portrait:

Did you guess?

Click on “read more” to see the ID, John’s Fun Faux Duck Facts, and a range map.:

ID: Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)

This member of the family Podicipedidae is probably the world’s most abundant grebe, also occurring in Eurasia and Africa where it is known as the Black-necked Grebe (hence the Latin species name).  This species is sexually monomorphic in plumage but differs markedly between its drab non-breeding (winter or basic) plumage and its bright breeding (summer or alternate) plumage.  It often fluffs up its rear-end feathers, giving the bird a ‘high-stern’ shape [see picture #5 above].  Especially in the winter and during migration, this species sometimes gathers in large flocks on inland saline lakes (such as the Salton Sea) where it feasts on brine shrimp as a supplement to its usual diet of insects, frogs, fish, crabs, and mollusks.  Paired birds work together to build a floating nest of vegetation into which are laid a clutch of 3-4 chalky greenish-blue eggs.  However, a third or more of these nests may contain an additional egg or two due to the phenomenon of intraspecific brood parasitism (or surreptitious  “egg-dumping”) by another female.  In terms of the animal’s breeding appearance, I especially like the bright yellow feathers that cover the auricular (ear) area on the head, juxtaposed with the bird’s bright red eyes.

A range map from the Cornell site:



5 thoughts on “Sunday Faux Duck o’ the Week

  1. Wonderful closeups. How do you get so close without spooking them?
    I’m familiar with pied billed grebe and the western and Clark’s grebe here in Idaho. I may have seen these eared grebe from a distance on Lake Lowell.

    1. I don’t have any special tricks for getting close-ups. I just spend a lot of time :
      “stalking” birds and occasionally I get lucky with my 300 mm lens. And, you’re not seeing a random draw from my photo collection; i’m posting only some of my best photographs.

  2. That “high stern” look can be sunbathing. The bird faces away from the sun and lifts the feathers so they point to the sun, exposing the dark skin to light. A cool adaptation.

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