[Various bird calls] [An adult red-necked grebe sits on a nest, which is on a floating raft in the water. Two chicks are visible. One chick climbs under its parent’s wing. The adult picks at pieces of vegetation in the nest with its beak. The chick pops its head up above the adult’s back, then it disappears behind the adult’s wing again.] [Explore Macaulaylibrary.org]

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Birds don’t always build nests in trees. Some nest on cliffs, in caves, on the ground, or in the case of some aquatic birds, such as this Red-necked Grebe, on a floating raft in the water. Both parents work together to construct the nest, using plant material to build up a platform in the shallow water of marshes. Nests like this one help protect the eggs and chicks from land predators like raccoons.

Here, a Red-necked Grebe sits on its nest in Alaska, and a young chick climbs under its parent’s wing. These birds’ nests are placed on aquatic vegetation, sometimes in open water, and are anchored to the lake bottom or submerged logs. Nests are a floating mound of plant matter with a depression in the middle, and the bulk of the nest is below the water line. After hatching, chicks climb onto a parent’s back, where they spend most of their time until they are 10 to 17 days old. The chicks’ downy feathers are not waterproof like adult feathers, and young rely on their parents to keep them warm.

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This video accompanies Chapter 11, Breeding Biology of Birds, Handbook of Bird Biology, 3rd Edition from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Wiley Publishing.

Recorded by Eric S Liner, Macaulay Library