Foraging and Parental Care Behaviors of Least Grebes

The Least Grebe is the smallest of the North American grebes and has wide distribution throughout much of South and Central America, with small populations occurring in South Texas. Prior studies have demonstrated diet and foraging behaviors of Least Grebes, however many aspects of cooperative foraging, including parental care, remain unknown.

The East Foundation supports wildlife conservation and other public benefits of ranching and private lands stewardship. Here we report Least Grebe cooperative foraging behaviors from cattle ponds on the San Antonio Viejo Ranch during 2014.

We recorded:

  • Least Grebe behavior on 6 ponds, where present (Table 1)
  • Pond size, presence of vegetation and overhanging cover
  • Grebe breeding status

We observed:

  • Pairs of adult grebes using an alternating diving technique, involving one grebe diving for approximately 10 seconds, while the other grebe stayed on the surface; this was followed by a reversal of roles; this strategy was observed on 15 occasions
  • Families of grebes demonstrating parental care and parental foraging, involving adults directing young to open water to dive for food while the adults stayed on the surface; after young had fed, adults directed young to dense or overhanging vegetation, then adults proceeded to forage; this behavior was observed within 2 different family groups

Least Grebe foraging behavior appears to be heavily influenced by predator vigilance and avoidance. Even minimal vegetation or overhanging cover provides suitable habitat in cattle ponds with stable food sources. Also, the size of cattle ponds can be quite small.

Given the lack of natural surface water in the South Texas Sand Sheet, artificial cattle ponds provide key habitat for waterbirds, such as the Least Grebe, and other wildlife – again, ranching and wildlife go together.

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