Early one morning in late April, a flock of black-and-white birds is flying in the clear blue sky above a shallow lake in western Minnesota. The birds fly with long necks stretched out in front and feet trailing behind. Could they be ducks or geese? Maybe herons or cranes?
Lowering their wings, the birds sail down to the water. Elegant as swans, they float on the ice-cold water. Diving in head first, hungry birds bring up small fish in their thin, pointed bills and swallow them whole.
Wildlife biologists believe these water birds have traveled all the way from the Oregon and California coasts to reach their summer home on this western Minnesota lake. They are western grebes. They are the only nesting bird species in Minnesota that has an east-west migration from the Pacific coast to Minnesota.
A western grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) has a black head, dark gray back, and white neck, chest, and belly. A male grebe and a female grebe look similar, but she is a little smaller and has a shorter, thinner bill. In their feathered tuxedos, the grebes appear to be dressed for a special occasion. Spring is a special time—mating season. The birds are ready to put on a big show for each other.
Each grebe is looking for a mate to start a family. To find a partner, males and females will dive, then rise up and glide across the water together like dancers. After a few days of this ritual dance called courtship, the partners will mate, build a nest, and raise a family of grebe chicks.
Western grebe families nest in a colony, a neighborhood of nests in a marsh or a shallow lake. This story tells about western grebes mating and raising a family.