Clark’s Grebe (
) is a common to locally abundant resident in the western Trans-Pecos region of Texas. They are rare migrants and winter visitors in the remainder of the Trans-Pecos as well as in the northwestern portion of the state. Records in the eastern half of the state are rare. The population has increased over the last twenty years. In the El Paso area and at Balmorhea Lake, Clark’s grebe is more common than Western grebe. Nesting can occur in all seasons, but is dependent upon water levels. Although they can be found year round, the majority do migrate with fall migrants arriving in late September and spring migrants found during April. Within the United States and Canada, the bird can be found in the western half of the Continental U.S. as well as the southern portion of Canada’s western provinces. They can be found on inland lakes in summer and ocean shores in winter. Clark’s Grebes build floating nests near the water’s edge among emergent vegetation, usually rushes or reeds. Water depth below the nest is usually less than a foot and most nest sites are sheltered from wave action. They feed mostly on fish but also salamanders, crustaceans, marine worms, grasshoppers, and aquatic insects. They dive deeply while hunting and swim around with wings mostly closed.
Clark’s Grebe is a member of the Podicipedidae Family that consists of 7 species. They are one of two marvelous black and white grebes (Western Grebe is the other). Clark’s Grebe has a thin pointy bill that is bright yellow-orange and a red eye. The cap and nape are black and the upper parts of the back are gray-black. The black on the hind neck is a narrow stripe. The face, throat, and belly are bright white. Note that the white face completely surrounds the red eye. In flight, they have extensive white flight feathers. The key marks in separating Clark’s from Western is that Western Grebe tends to have a yellow to olive colored bill and the eye is surrounded by black/gray. They are about 25 inches long with a 24 inch wingspan. Their typical weight is about 3 pounds. The most common call is a simple “kreee-eed”, but they also have a rattle call and a high, thin whistle. Courting females will give a long series of begging notes “weeweeweewee”.
- The courtship ceremony between mating pairs is quite a spectacle to witness with both acting as ballet dancers on water.
- First described in 1858, at the same time as Western Grebe, Clark's Grebe was originally regarded as a distinct species and then as a color phase of the Western Grebe.
- Western and Clark's Grebes were considered the same species until 1985, after scientists learned that the two species rarely interbreed (despite sometimes living on the same lakes), make different calls, and have substantial DNA differences.
- One study in Oregon found that Clark's Grebes foraged at greater distances from shore than Western Grebes inhabiting the same lake.