Strange Things I Have Seen – A Killer Grebe
Some of the “strange things” I’ve seen are tragic and rather heartbreaking. The Wife and I were taking a stroll along the AKS Marsh trail in Port Hope one early May morning. We were watching the Canada Goose goslings in the creek, and saw a few goslings had gotten caught up in the rapid water where the creek empties into the lake. The next day, the family was missing a couple of goslings. Swept out into the lake, they wouldn’t have stood much of a chance. When I was young, I saw Pike attack ducklings in the Northern lakes at my family’s cottage. I’ve also seen hawks attack goslings. Between predatory birds, weasels, foxes, raccoons, large fish, and natural disasters, the survival chances of goslings are rather slim.
But that particular morning, we watched a tragic yet interesting incident. We were alerted by the sound of a number of goslings, obviously in distress. As we watched, the mother seemed oblivious to the problem as “something” seemed to be grabbing the goslings from below the water. There was a large splash and one of the gosling cried out before disappearing below the water. When it re-surfaced, it made a dash for the shore but the cattails interfered with any attempts to land. Then another splash, and another gosling disappeared below the water. The mother still didn’t appear to notice anything wrong. We got up as close as we could, and I began taking videos to try to determine what was attacking them. I knew it couldn’t be a fish because the pond was far too shallow and small to harbour a large predatory fish.
Then I spotted a duck-like head just inches out of the water. The whole body was submerged with just the head above the surface. I’d only seen loons do that, and this wasn’t a loon. The adult goose still didn’t seem to notice the problem, as it’s young cried out and scrambled for distance from whatever was attacking and yanking them under.
Now, I know there are those who say we shouldn’t interfere in the “natural way of things”. But then, I figure I’m a “natural thing” and I have my “ways”, and one of my “ways” is to try to defend the defenseless. So I picked up a stone and flung it at the assailant. Not trying to hit it, just trying to distract it so the goslings could escape, or until Mama woke up and realized something was wrong. The stone splashed a few inches from the attacker … who couldn’t have cared less as it launched another attack on the third gosling. By this time, the first gosling that had been attacked and yanked under, hadn’t re-surfaced (and it never did). The second one managed to clear the cattails and was relatively safe in the shallows between the cattails and us. We moved further down the trail so as not to frighten it back out into the open water.
The third gosling had scrambled across to the far side of the pond, and was trying to clear the cattails there, when a group of adult geese (sharper than Mama) sailed in to it’s defense. There were about five adults, but they couldn’t figure out where the assailant was. It’s head just kept popping up like a periscope and disappearing again before the mature geese could lunge at it. Then, it would pop up behind the gosling and race across the water to attack it again. We lost sight of the gosling in the cattails, but could see and hear the attack still going on in the shallows behind the cattails. The adult geese could only honk and snap their bills in the air. Things got quiet after awhile and we never did find out if the last gosling survived or not. The link below, will open one of the videos I got of the incident :
Once Home, we identified the attacker as a Pied Billed Grebe. It’s a diving bird described as “half bird, half submarine” by the Cornell University School of Ornithology. The only explanation I can offer is that the Grebe might have been defending it’s own nest nearby. Otherwise, I have no idea what it was trying to accomplish, but now I can add Grebe attack as yet another reason for high gosling mortality rates.