Amorous Eareds

An eared grebe breeding pair swim close to one another
An eared grebe breeding pair swim close to one another

Recently when I lucked out by capturing four different grebe species in one day at Shoreline Lake in Mountain View, I witnessed something new for me – two eared grebes who had paired up for season were not only showcasing their courtship behavior, but were also mating. I was surprised to see this because usually the grebes head north for the summer before mating, and as a result I had never seen this behavior before.

Their courtship seemed to have several stages of intimacy. First, they swam close to each other across the lake as seen above. Suddenly, they would run side by side across the surface of the water (essentially flying very low over the water) and quickly make it to shore, only to turn around and swim slowly back to their starting location.

Part of the eared grebes courtship display is to fly low across the surface of the water together. Once they land nearby, they swim back to their starting location, and proceed to mimic each other. They repeat this cycle of mimicking and flying together until they (usually) mate.
Part of the eared grebes courtship display is to fly low across the surface of the water together. Once they land nearby, they swim back to their starting location, and proceed to mimic each other. They repeat this cycle of mimicking and flying together until they (usually) mate.

Occasionally, they would attract the attention of an unexpected guest in their over water flight.

Occasionally an additional eared grebe or two join a courting pair as they fly low across the surface of the water.
Occasionally an additional eared grebe or two join a courting pair as they fly low across the surface of the water.

Once they had performed this flight several times, they stayed out toward the middle of the water and proceeded to mimic each other, a behavior seen frequently in other grebe courtship displays.

A mating pair of eared grebes court one another by mimicking each other's movements. Here the rise out of the water belly to belly and synchronize their head movements.
A mating pair of eared grebes court one another by mimicking one another’s movements. Here the rise out of the water belly to belly and synchronize their head movements.

After satisfactorily copying one another, there was no putting off the inevitable. It was time to seal the deal.

A male eared grebe mounts a female from behind and flaps his wings rapidly. The mating lasts only a few seconds.
A male eared grebe mounts a female from behind and flaps his wings rapidly. The mating lasts only a few seconds.

As I said before, I was surprised to see actual mating behavior. I have not heard of eared grebes successfully nesting in the area, so I assume this couple soon headed north for a more traditional breeding season together.