Beak of the Week: Western Grebe

Since Western Grebes are known to winter off the Pacific Coast, it wasn’t surprising to find this one (and many of his friends) at Lake Cachuma, which is located near Santa Barbara, California. 

Though I am guilty of being a lover of all birds, I do possess a great fascination for, and interest in, waterfowl.  Ducks, geese, swans and grebes, to name a few, are some of the most graceful, artful, and beautiful birds in existence.  And, while this week’s featured bird is not necessarily the most brightly colored of the bunch, the intensity of its stare is sure to keep you talking…

The large, elegant Western Grebe breeds in lakes and ponds across the American West

Common Name: Western Grebe

Latin Name: Aechmophorus occidentalis

Range: Found in the Western parts of of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Habitat: Freshwater lakes and marshes with extensive open water bordered by emergent vegetation. During the winter Western Grebes move to saltwater or tracking bays, estuaries, or sheltered sea coasts and are less frequently found on freshwater lakes or rivers.

Diet: Mainly fish.

Conservation Status: Least Concern, although populations may be declining.

Garments and Grebes…

During the years spanning the turn of the 20th century, approximately 1895 to 1914, European countries and the United States were experiencing a period of massive economic growth and social change. Often referred to as, “La Belle Époque” and “The Gilded Age,” respectively, these years are usually characterized by opulence, magnificence and luxury—fashion was undoubtedly affected. Richly textured fabrics, lavish accessories and highly ornate details typified apparel. Women’s fashions, in particular, boasted several silhouettes, rapidly changing trends and the use of ornamental trimmings.

Headpieces, in particular, were one of the most elaborate accessories for women during this era.  Though different hat shapes, from wide-brimmed to petite pieces, were fashionable at varying times, embellishments, such as beautiful feathers, remained in vogue.  Several different species of birds were killed for this reason, and the Western Grebe was no exception.  In fact, around the early 1900s, the Western Grebe was hunted for its breast plumage and was endangered of becoming extinct. Luckily, this did not occur.  In fact, around this time, the Audubon society began to publicize the threat to and decline of American Bird populations on account of commercial purposes.

Consumers responded to these efforts and the market for feathers quickly subsided.   Not to mention, with the Great War nearing, lavishness would soon turn to austerity.

Leave it to me to tie in my love for birding, art history and fashion. Guess they aren’t so disconnected after all…

Happy Birding!




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