The Pied-billed Grebe and Red-eared Slider
COME ON IN, THE WATER’S FINE!
The ponds and streams at Clark County Wetlands Park are home to a great variety of swimmers. Invertebrates, fish, reptiles, birds, and even some mammals spend lots of time in the water or very nearby. You can spot many of them easily from the Park’s viewing areas, sometimes more than one at a time!
In this photo, a Pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps, on left) seems to be inviting a basking Red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans, on right) to “come on in” and join in a paddle. Both the grebe and the turtle rely on the water for food and protection, and neither strays very far from the water’s edge.
Pied-billed Grebes are very aquatic birds with chicken-like bills and tailless profiles. Their legs are so far back on their bodies that they have great difficulty walking on land. To fly, they must use the surface of a pond to take off.
Someone once brought a young grebe that had mistakenly landed on a wet street to the Park to try a take-off from Vern’s Pond. Luckily, he was not at all hurt by his previous rather hard landing and lifted off easily from the water.
Feeding grebes dive headfirst for meals of fish, aquatic invertebrates, and frogs. Occasionally they snack on aquatic vegetation. Their lobed toes allow very acrobatic underwater maneuvers. They also have a startling trick of exhaling rapidly and simply sinking out of sight like miniature submarines to avoid danger.
Like the grebes, Red-eared sliders are highly adept in the water. They also can adjust the volume of air in their lungs to sink out of sight while staying in one place. Using their webbed feet to swim and dive, they graze on aquatic plants and algae. More rarely, they snatch an aquatic insect, fish, or tadpole.
You may see sliders sitting on a rock or a log near the water to bask in the sun and regulate their body temperature. Sometimes they will actually stack up on top of each other, like Yertle the Turtle in the famous story by Dr. Seuss, if good waterfront basking spaces are in high demand.
So, the next time you’re watching a pond in Wetlands Park, check out those rings in the water where “somebody” just sank out of sight. It could be an invertebrate, a fish, or a turtle, or even a bird!
Please enjoy these YouTube videos!
Pied-billed Grebe fishing and sinking like a submarine.
Red-eared Slider basking and stretching.
– By Chris Leavitt, Friends President; photo by David Walker, www.naturallyvegas.com