Flora and Fauna | NW Life | local

Oregon Field Guide Captures Grebes 'Walking' on Water

OPB | Oct. 3, 2012 7 a.m.

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Western and Clark's grebes migrate by the thousands to southern Oregon to spend months at area lakes.

Southern Oregon is famous. Filmmakers from Japan, France and the BBC have all come to park their cameras next to the Pelican Marina at Upper Klamath Lake. There they get to see one of the most amazing displays in nature. 

Western grebes and Clark’s grebes walk on water. Seriously. They don’t flap a wing. They just get up and run. It’s part of a breeding ritual. They’re the largest animal on the planet that can do this.

As if that’s not enough to attract attention, we came back a month later to see grebe chicks getting piggyback rides, sitting among the feathers of mom’s back. Let’s just call that for what it is. Bucket loads of cute.

Those international video crews often have weeks to stake out the birds. Oregon Field Guide doesn’t have that kind of budget. (Nor do we have their incredible lenses.) Frankly, we were a bit worried our two days would net very little footage. After all, you have to sit and wait and hope that a) the grebes do their runs, and b) that the camera was pointed that same direction and was rolling when they took off.

It turns out we need not have worried. The grebes performed time and time again. Plus, when we learned about the piggybacking babies, we found time for a second brief trip and found adults were still walking on the water even as other grebe pairs were raising their young.

Just how do grebes manage to run on the surface of the lake? Well, that’s what one researcher hopes to learn. Watch our story on Oregon Field Guide this week to see how she hopes to find out.

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