Thursday, Aug. 11, 2005
* Japanese name: Kaitsuburi
* Scientific name: Tachybaptus ruficollis
* Description: Little grebes, also known as dabchicks, are quite small and rather dumpy birds with blunt rear ends. They are dark brown, with a chestnut-brown throat and face. This chestnut color becomes richer and more shiny during the breeding season. The flanks of the bird are pale brown; the feathers are waterproof. There is a distinctive yellow patch at the base of the sturdy, wedge-shape bill, and the bird has a beady yellow eye with a small black pupil. Adults are some 25 cm long. Chicks are covered in fluffy gray down and have striped heads and necks, like the young of all grebes.
Little grebes are common waterfowl and are likely to be found on any lake or decent-sized pond, including in parks in big cities such as Tokyo. They prefer lakes with lots of vegetation. They can be found in lowland areas from Honshu to Kyushu. Chicks are carried around on the backs of their parents.
* Food: Mainly fish. Because the Little grebe is little, it can live quite happily on ponds and lakes too small to support large fish. Other grebes, such as the Great-crested grebe, need larger lakes with larger fish. Young grebes are fed by their parents until they are big enough to dive for themselves. They eat small fish, crustaceans such as shrimp, crayfish and crabs, as well as mollusks. The delicate little chicks are also fed feathers by their parents. This provides a soft protective lining to the stomach to prevent damage from fish bones and crab shells, and helps the birds form a pellet when they cough up undigested bones.
* Special features: You are unlikely to see a Little grebe on land, unless it's on a nest. That's because their legs are positioned very far back on the body, the better to swim underwater with. On land they walk upright, awkwardly like penguins, and they have narrow wings and seldom fly. If danger threatens, they dive; they can also remain submerged with only the head above water. The lobed feet kick and power the animal like the propeller blades of a hydrofoil. Dives last up to 30 seconds.