No one can doubt that Lake County has one of the largest wild bird populations in the state and that the base of that ideal home is Clear Lake.
One of the most popular birds on Clear Lake is the Western Grebe. It is a fascinating bird that makes an annual hike to Clear Lake to nest and hatch its young. It attracts hundreds of bird watchers. The observers are bewitched by their nuptial dance during which the male approaches the female and makes a series of dives with his head. It responds with similar troughs and then they cross the surface of the water side by side. At the end of their run, they dive in perfect unison.
Grebes also hold what is called the âweedâ ceremony. This happens after the grebes have mated and just before they start building nests. Male and female approach each other with weeds in their mouths. They face each other and do a spiral dance. They can live up to 10 years, but most survive between five and seven years.
Western grebes feed primarily on minnows, but they also eat small clams and crayfish. They are the ultimate fishermen and hunt small minnows such as nasturtiums and filiform shad and eat them one by one like popcorn. Studies have shown that grebes capture most of their prey by stabbing them with their long, pointed beaks. Most of the time, they swallow their food underwater. Scientists believe they do this because it prevents other grebes from stealing their food. However, it is common for a grebe to surface with a minnow in its mouth and offer it to its mate or chicks.
The stomach of the Western Grebe is lined with downy-type feathers that form a ball. It is believed that the purpose of the feathery ball is to prevent sharp fish bones from entering the lining of the stomach.
Almost all boaters and fishermen have seen grebe chicks riding on their mother’s back, but the way they climb is very unusual. The mother extends her foot like a platform and the chick climbs on the foot and crawls on its back. Mothers have also been observed diving with the chicks on their backs.
What is unusual is how the mother can identify her chick among the hundreds of other chicks in the same neighborhood. Each chick makes a distinct call that only the mother recognizes. The chick can also recognize its mother’s call.
The way western grebes make their way to Clear Lake has always mystified bird watchers. Most do not overwinter here but migrate here in the spring. Not many people have ever seen a grebe fly, except to fly on water, but they do. Scientists say that most of the time grebes migrate at night. They are without a doubt one of the most popular birds on the lake.
Another popular bird is the osprey. Ospreys are unique in that they can be found all over the world, on all continents except Antarctica. The world’s population is estimated at over 400,000 people. They are common on Clear Lake where at least two dozen pairs of birds nest around the lake. They can be easily identified in flight by their white bellies and long, narrow, black-tipped wings. The head is predominantly white with a dark brown stripe extending from the eye. Their beak is hooked at the end, which allows them to tear a fish into small pieces. Their feet have two toes pointing backwards, and the bottom of their feet has short, sharp spines that help them hold onto the fish. Their feathers also have an oil coating that keeps them dry when diving in water.
Fish represent 99% of the osprey’s diet. The main fish that osprey feed on are hitch, small carp, catfish, thread-fin shad, and small sea bass. They locate their prey by flying low over water. When they spot a fish near the surface, they gain altitude and then dive with their talons tense. Once they catch a fish, they turn it so that the head is facing forward. The osprey then returns to its nest with its catch.
For years, a family of ospreys nestled in a huge nest in the lagoon of Lakeside County Park. Each year, the same pair of ospreys returned to this nest and hatched young. A few years ago the nest was replaced by another nest on a large utility pole. Ospreys return there every year.
Birds are an important part of our life and we must protect them so that they are always there.