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At 22-29 inches long, the Western Grebe is the largest of all North American grebes. It is also swan-like in appearance, giving it folk names, like "swan grebe" and "swan-necked grebe". It has a slender, S-shaped neck and is often confused with the similar Clark's Grebe, which shares the same features, behavior and habitat, and hybrids are known to exist.
The Western Grebe has black around the eyes and a straight greenish-yellow bill whereas the Clark's Grebe has white around the eyes and an up-turned bright yellow bill. The downy young of Western are grey; Clark's downy young are white.They nest in colonies of hundreds on large inland lakes, sometimes using estuaries, in western North American. It has a dazzling courtship display; two birds will rear up and patter across the water's surface. Northern birds migrate west to coastal ocean in winter; birds in the southwest and Mexico may be permanent residents.
This bird dines by diving for carp, herring, mollusks, crabs, and salamanders.
Western Grebe fossils from the Late Pleistocene of SW North America were described as a distinct species (Miller 1911), but later ranked as a paleosubspecies Aechmophorus occidentalis lucasi (Howard 1946). More recent study found them to fall within the variation now known to exist in today's birds (Jehl 1967, Storer 1989).
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