Faux Duck o’ the Week

November 30, 2020 • 8:00 am

I completely forgot about Sunday’s Faux Duck O’ the Week, being occupied yesterday with The Auction and all. But better late than never, and here’s the latest in biologist John Avise‘s series of waterfowl that resemble ducks but aren’t. Can you guess this species?

His captions and Fun Duck Facts are indented. (To see the ID, Fun Duck Facts, and range map, go below the fold.)

At its summer home in Central Alaska:

Close-up in breeding plumage:

Frontal view:


With next week’s species to its left:

Click on “read more” for the identification, John’s Fun Faux Duck facts, and a range map:

ID: Red-necked grebe (Podiceps grisegena)

This species is extremely rare in southern California, so I was very fortunate when one bird showed up on May 7, 2010 at our local Newport Bay.  I spent an entire afternoon trying to get into position to photograph this beautiful specimen (see photos 2-5), who was in his or her adult breeding plumage.  [The other photo I took on a business trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, also in May.]  I have never photographed (nor even seen) this species in its much drabber all-grey basic or non-breeding plumage.  The Red-necked Grebe is intermediate in size between the Horned Grebe (see last Sunday’s post) and an even-larger grebe species (stay tuned for next week’s post).  The Red-necked Grebe in its breeding plumage does indeed have a thick red neck, plus a white face, black crown, and a long heavy bill.  It nests on shallow freshwater lakes across Canada and Alaska, and winters mostly along seacoasts in deep open water.  Like all grebes, these birds are excellent divers with legs far back on the body and a penchant for eating fish.  Also like most other grebes, the mating rituals are elaborate; in this species, each monogamous pair repeatedly “dances” across the water’s surface in long and parallel upright rushes.

I found a YouTube video of the courtship of this bird, including both sexual displays and male-male competition (another way of impressing the female, who watches closely):

And here’s a range map from the Cornell bird site:

8 thoughts on “Faux Duck o’ the Week

  1. D’oh! I said to myself “well, it can’t be a Grebe, Grebes having been featured a couple times already…” but still was puzzled as to what the not duck could be…

      1. Point taken. But we started our faux duck series seven weeks ago with several North American members of the Rallidae family, and now we’re gradually working our way through the grebes (Podicipedidae) before moving on to a few other avian groups that beginning birders might mistake for ducks.

  2. I think they are grebes… Common on ponds in Europe. I have some most of the year on our lake about 500 yards from my house. Shy birds, that do a mating dance in Spring by walking on the water…

  3. An old English vernacular name for another grebe, the Great Crested Grebe (P cristatus) is ‘Arsefoot’, reflecting the fact that the legs on these birds are placed so far back, close to the bird’s cloaca. The scientific name might be supposed to be less vulgar but in fact the name Podiceps means the same thing, being a contraction of Podicipes where Podicis is Latin for anus and Pes the Latin for foot.

  4. I have learned something about these birds, at least, namely that if it isn’t a duck, it is probably a grebe. That constitutes progress for me.

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