The Red-necked Grebe is found in North America, but also in parts of Europe and Asia. I have shown the slightly larger of the two subspecies, which is the one found in North America and named after Carl Peter Holbøll (1795 – 1856), a Danish navy officer and naturalist who collected flora and fauna in Greenland, and died tragically when the brig, Baldur, sailing from Denmark to Greenland, went down with no survivors. This explains why, in older books on North American birds, you may see the species called “Holboell’s Grebe”. They nest in western North America, from Alaska east across Canada to central Quebec, and south into some of the northern United States, but that range if variable, and they now nest yearly in the lower Great Lakes. In the Toronto region the often nest on floating platforms put there for that purpose. Most of the North American population spends the winter in the calmer, unfrozen coastal waters of both east and west coasts, or on very large lakes and rivers.
Grebes eat mostly fish, but also swallow their own feathers which is thought to aid digestion. This species also consumes significant amounts of aquatic insects and other invertebrates, especially so through the nesting season.
Grebes’ feet are placed very near the tiny and rudimentary tail, so they can walk only clumsily on land, able to quickly run a very short distance before flopping down on their bellies. I’ve tried to convey this awkwardness in my painting. They are attentive to their chicks, who leave the nest soon after hatching, at times hitching rides on the backs of the adults. Excellent swimmers, the three front toes of a grebe’s foot are flattened into “lobes”, joined by small webs only at the base.
The brightly rusty-red neck of the breeding plumage is replaced by a soft, silvery-grey in winter, and the white cheeks become duskier. This is similar to the first adult plumage attained by the young chicks who, however, hatch wearing a boldly striped pattern in black and white.
The painting is in oils, on a Russian birch panel backed by a basswood border, and is 18 X 24 inches, showing the birds approximately life size. I’ve shown the eggs hatching, one chick already out. Usually there are four or five eggs but clutch sizes can range from one to nine, and the nest us usually a floating mass of interwoven vegetation (I enjoy watching how the female arranges, and rearranges, and then takes another poke at a reed or leaf she has decided is still not quite as it should be) anchored to emergent vegetation.
Barry Kent MacKay
Bird Artist, Illustrator
31 Colonel Butler Drive
Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada