From Reno, Nevada, travel approximately 32 miles to Pyramid Lake. Take I-80 east to Wadsworth, then north on state route 445.
After the 2016-17 record-setting wet winter in the Sierra Nevada, local lakes and reservoirs experienced high amounts of inflows, a welcome event after a severe drought period. Several hundred western grebe and Clark’s grebe nests appeared in a shallow lake area that had previously been dry for years. Due to runoff well into the summer, most of the nests were flooded before chicks could hatch, but a few western grebe parents successfully hatched chicks. I observed both parents feeding soft downy feathers to their chicks, a behavior I’d never seen before. Research revealed that grebes are typically found to have balls of feathers in their stomachs, and the higher the percentage of fish in their diets, the larger the feather ball. The feathers are thought to protect their stomachs from the bones and possibly slow digestion until all the fish bones can be broken down and absorbed. The feathers also help the grebes form pellets which are ejected, thereby reducing parasites in their upper digestive systems.