On The Wild Side: The Battle of the Grebes

Photographer and columnist Ann Brokelman caught these grebes doing battle during a recent outing. We share her collection of photos from The Battle of the Grebes below. All of the photos are by Ann Brokelman.


I’m only writing a short blurb this week, partially because I’ve been busy lately with grandmother duties, but mostly because I wanted more room to share a lot of photos!

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the soaring real estate prices lately, but did you know that even the animals are feeling the pressure?

I was going for a walk through a local park, looking anywhere and everywhere, as usual, for my next story idea. Sure enough, said story appeared amidst a splash of water, a cry of weep weep and kuk-kuk-kuks, and, I assume, a significant loss of feathers.

I had come across The Battle of the Grebes. I’m not sure if that name is catchy enough to inspire the next Game of Thrones, but you never know. I’m not exaggerating when I say these birds, two red-necked grebes, fought for an hour, over a nearby female.

The length of the fight gave me time to take hundreds of shots, some of my favourites being shared below.

What caught me off guard, about the fight, was that this was taking place after nesting season. All three birds were in their winter plumage, and they shouldn’t have been thinking about partnering up for months.

Between one of my favourite books, Sibley’s Guide to Bird Life and Behaviour, and a few internet sources such as https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/ , I learned a lot of interesting facts about grebes, but none that perfectly explained what I was seeing.

My best guess, but don’t quote me please, is that while they are seasonally monogamous, the original male wasn’t ready to admit the season was over. Even though nobody was going to be having eggs or chicks any time soon, he was still ready to defend what was ‘his.’ Or, perhaps, their real estate is as hot as ours and they were willing to fight for prime lakefront property. I’m sure a few Torontonians have been ready to throw fists over a competitive condominium listing.

My main regret: If I had had a top-notch video camera, I’m sure I would have had footage worthy of an animal documentary. The grebes flew at each other, fought on the water’s surface, battled under the water with their feet sticking up in the air, vocalized loudly enough to scare the squirrels away, and considering how large and sharp their beaks are, I honestly thought one of them might end up fatally wounded. Luckily, when the fight was over, nobody flew away with too much damage.

That’s it for another adventure. Please let me know if you’ve seen anything similar in your neighbourhood, and I hope you enjoy the photos.

The red-necked grebe is a medium-sized water bird with a sleek body, a long, slender neck, and a distinctive red neck and throat during the breeding season. It has a long neck, a straight, long black bill that is yellow at the base, and black legs and feet that are set far back on its body. They are amazing.

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