Telling a Story with Photos: Shift Change

A Red-necked Grebe mother gets stiff, tired and hungry brooding eggs and sheltering hatchlings. It’s only fair that dad bears part of the burden. Among grebes, a clade of diving waterfowl, those duties get traded off. But the transition is risky. There are predators around, looking for a tasty egg or tender nestling. So the process has to be quick and careful.


Ma and Pa Red-necked Grebe. You can see a hatchling peeking out of Mom’s back. She’s on at least two eggs. It’s time to swap off nest duties.


Ma stands up. Junior is unceremoniously dumped on the nest. Grebes are specialized diving ducks; their legs are far back on their bodies. It makes them very good at swimming, especially underwater. But they are very awkward on land.


Ma swims off and dad immediately moves to clamber on to the nest. Junior is visible on the right side of the nest. The very top of one egg is visible in the center of the nest.


Dad’s weight as he climbs on to the nest pressed down the semi-floating nest, exposing a second egg to view. Dad checks that the kid is okay.


Dad settles down to nest duty and Ma has swum off, foraging for the nestling. The kid is about to scramble on to Dad’s back.


Ma arrives with a small squawfish for junior. Just because you aren’t sitting on the eggs doesn’t mean you are excused from work.

These photos were taken at a Red-necked Grebe nest at Wander Lake in Fairbanks in June 2015. The nesting pair successfully raised three kids. And then, over the long summer, laid a second set of eggs and raised a second brood of kids.