An Eared or Horned grebe standing n the rocks

Return of a bird species not seen on Cortes for 50 years? Or a Horned grebe?

The most recent addition to Wild Cortes may turn out to be a species that has not been seen on Cortes for close to 50 years. Or it could be a Horned grebe, which is said to be fairly common.

“It’s a Black-necked grebe. It’s possibly an adult molting, or it could be an immature. I believe it’s an adult male,” said Laurel Bohart, taxidermist and co-curator of Wild Cortes.

As you can see from this picture, there is black colouring at the back of its neck – Roy L Hales photo

CC: What’s exceptional about this bird? 

LB: “Several things. First of all, this bird isn’t supposed to be found anywhere near Cortes, and second,  it washed up on the beach after being killed by an eagle, and happened to wash up where somebody could find it, right away.” 

“A young girl, Nieve Levesque, found it at Sandra Wood’s place, and they brought it to me immediately, right from the beach.” 

CC: Are we sure that it actually was on Cortes island? 

LB: “Absolutely”

CC: It couldn’t have just drifted here? 

LB: “Nope, it was predated by an eagle and  a raven was attacking it when it washed up. Or possibly the eagle simply dropped it, was pursued by another bird and then the raven found it.” 

CC: Have you told any of our local birding experts, and what did they say? 

LB: “They said it couldn’t happen, I have evidence that it can.” 

She pointed to the black colouring at the nape of the bird’s neck, which you can see in the podcast picture above.

One of the skeptics emailed Cortes Currents that the bird photographed in this article ‘looks like a Horned grebe in winter plumage.’ 

Black-necked grebes (also known as Eared grebes), ‘have a thin upturned bill, which this individual doesn’t.’   

“I would have to see the specimen in the hand and also forward pictures to other birders who are familiar with Eared Grebes for their opinion. The record needs to be collaborated, it’s not just up to me to decide, that’s how it works – a team effort. Again, in my opinion, from the pictures I’ve seen it’s a Horned grebe, further analysis is needed to prove the identity of the bird. It’s great Laurel has taken the time to preserve the specimen.”

He stated there have been no documented sightings of Eared Grebes on Cortes for 50 years. 

While they have been reported in some Christmas Bird Counts (most recently 2017, 2019 and 2020), ‘there are no corresponding pictures or detailed field notes that would be needed to accept the record(s).’ 

“But Horned grebes love Cortes, they are very common and can be seen everywhere just offshore.”

If Bohart’s identification turns out to be correct, it seems likely that this may not be the first Eared grebe to visit Cortes in the past two decades. There have been unsubstantiated sightings in Christmas Bird counts as far back as 2003.

My anonymous skeptic did not discount the idea that Eared grebes could have visited, but wrote this bird is not one of them.

Top image credit: The Eared, or Horned, Grebe recently added to the natural history display at Wild Cortes – Roy L Hales photo

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