[Tweeters] Profligate? Not So Much...

travelGirl travelgirl.fics at gmail.com
Mon Feb 9 17:47:21 PST 2009

for what it's worth, i invite you to look at a new blog article i just posted at http://realistatlarge.blogspot.com/2009/02/more-than-you-can-chew.html for a similar story, complete with a couple of photos.

I honestly don't think these birds are being profligate in any way; they are just a bit too confident, perhaps, in their abilities. :)

00 caren
george davis creek, north fork

----- Original Message -----
From: Gary Smith
To: 'Martin Muller' ; garybletsch at yahoo.com
Cc: tweeters at u.washington.edu
Sent: 2009 February 09, Monday 15:11
Subject: RE: [Tweeters] Profligate Pied-billed Grebe

Over on Alki we’ve watched many astonishing feats of engorgement over the years. It’s amazing what a bird can swallow. The most common feats are by Double-crested Cormorants and Glaucous-winged Gulls. Out here, the hard fish for them to swallow are the flounders and soles, and sometimes they catch one they just can’t eat. If a cormorant gives up, usually a gull is there to carry it to the beach and try for itself, and even they have been known to ‘walk’ away. Watch a gull eat a large sea star sometime. It can take 30 minutes or more, but they usually get it done. And they don’t bite off pieces first, either.

And then there are the times we see California Sea Lions fight a Giant Pacific Octopus. The Sea Lion always wins, but it takes a long time. In that case, the sea lion bites off legs and swallows them the way a Heron would swallow a snake. Except there’s a lot more commotion.


Gary T. Smith

Alki Point


From: tweeters-bounces at mailman2.u.washington.edu [mailto:tweeters-bounces at mailman2.u.washington.edu] On Behalf Of Martin Muller
Sent: Monday, February 09, 2009 2:58 PM
To: garybletsch at yahoo.com
Cc: tweeters at u.washington.edu
Subject: Re: [Tweeters] Profligate Pied-billed Grebe


Thanks for sharing the cool grebe observation.

I have to agree I've never seen a pied-bill waste a fish (or other prey item) it caught, either. In many, many hours of watching them.

However, I've seen both Great Blue Heron and Double-crested Cormorants catch fish bigger than they could swallow and after long (painful-looking) attempts, give up and "waste" the fish. Another way of looking at it is they didn't kill themselves trying to swallow something too big.


Martin Muller, Seattle

martinmuller at msn.com

----- Original Message -----

From: Gary Bletsch

To: tweeters tweeters

Sent: Sunday, February 08, 2009 6:40 PM

Subject: [Tweeters] Profligate Pied-billed Grebe

Dear Tweetes,

Today I dithered about among Skagit County's "Lake District," rather than racing out to Mount Erie, which is what a sensible birder would have done.

There were no Redheads to be found on Clear, Beaver, or Mud Lake. There weren't any at DeBay's Slough, either.

However, at Mud Lake, I watched a Pied-billed Grebe kill and then discard a fish that I think was a crappie of some sort. It was shaped like a sunfish, but had black spots on the fins and tail.

The grebe had a grey bill with black band around it; two other Pied-billed Grebes with straw-colored bills followed it around, as the pied-billed one tried to swallow this leviathan.

Again and again, the grebe would position the fish, then try to swallow it, but the wide shape of the crappie's body prevented the bird from so doing. After being subjected to perhaps ten of these punishments, the fish flopped its tail back and forth in an ever more feeble manner.

Meanwhile, the other two grebes kept close, but never made any aggressive moves. At one point, one of them did put its bill within an inch or two of the fish, and made a tentative move toward it, but did not press the issue. The grebe with the fish appeared to pay no heed to the other grebe.

After about five minutes of this, the grebe with the fish just dropped it in the lilly-pad shallows. I could see the fish lying in the water, maybe an inch or two below the surface, not moving at all. The other two birds stayed there for a moment, and then swam off. Within a minute or two, all three were looking for more suitable prey.

There were Buffleheads nearby, but they ignored the whole scene. No other birds came over to investigate, so I left after another ten minutes.

I don't recall ever seeing a grebe kill something and then let it go to waste. Come to think of it, I cannot seem to recall having witnessed any instance of a bird or other predator doing this.

Yours truly,

Gary Bletsch Near Lyman, Washington (Skagit County), USA garybletsch at yahoo.com

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