Yesterday the normal birding doldrums of mid June were broken by a report on the Northern New York Birds List-Serv. A pair of Red-necked Grebes that has been hanging out on the Lower Lake of the Upper & Lower Lakes Complex in St. Lawrence County, NY were observed displaying. Red-necked Grebes are famous for their dramatic water displays, which involves both birds rearing up in the water and running (“dancing”) across the top of the water in such perfect formation that it would make synchronized swimmers jealous.
So why is this exciting? Well Red-necked Grebe has never nested in New York State before. As far as I’m aware there has never been an attempt either. According to some sources, these birds have been poised to make a range expansion South and East of their current known breeding areas, which is mainly in Canada, with a few breeding as far south and the upper Midwest. Birds have nested closer to New York in both Ontario and Quebec, but not all that close. In recent years, hundreds of non-breeding Red-necked Grebes have been observed off the Canadian side of Lake Ontario.
Now there is nothing rare about Red-necked Grebe in New York State, especially in winter. Birds can be found from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Lakes and nearly every large body of water in-between. Red-necked Grebe is our largest regularly occurring Grebe. In their winter plumage, these birds are nothing spectacular to look at. Simply black and white, but in summer these birds develop a deep red color on their necks (hence the name) and are a striking sight. They build floating nests like other Grebes, usually attached to a piece of vegetation. The idea is that the nest would rise and fall with the level of the water and prevent the nest and young from being lost due to flooding. Once the young hatch, they quickly leave the nest and can be seen riding the backs of a parent.
There are many different sub plots which can come out of this unusual observation in the North Country. If they do nest, why now? Is this a one time deal or part of some larger range expansion? How will they respond to the interest they are likely to draw? What does this mean for current nesters such as Common Loon and Pied-billed Grebe? To say the least, it should be a very interesting Summer!