Great Salt Lake Shorebirds
 
 
  Index: What are two interesting shorebirds of the Great Salt Lake?
              Wilson's phalarope identification
              Where does the Wilson's phalarope live?             
              What does the Wilson's phalarope eat?
              Wilson's phalarope exhibit sex reversal
              Wilson's phalarope migration
              Eared grebe identification
              Where does the Eared-grebe live?
              What does the Eared-grebe eat?
              Eared-grebe migration
 
       
WHAT ARE TWO INTERESTING SHOREBIRDS OF THE GREAT SALT LAKE?
 
 
    There are two species of shorebirds that rely heavily upon the Great Salt Lake ecosystem,

the Wilson's phalarope and the Eared grebe.  The Wilson's phalarope spends several months

at the Great Salt Lake during the summer,  feasting on the abundant brine flies and brine shrimp,

before its 3,000 mile non-stop migration to South America.  The Eared grebe also relies upon the huge concentrations of

brine flies and brine shrimp that inhabit the Great Salt Lake, in order to build and replenish fat deposits necessary for their

fall migration to Mexico and the Gulf of California.

 
 WILSON'S PHALAROPE IDENTIFICATION
  
 The Wilsonís phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) is a  

strikingly patterned shorebird  which can be  

characterized by its slender needle-like bill, pearl-gray  

head and  back, white under parts, black strip through its 

eye and down its neck, and chestnut  markings on  its breast  

and back. Unlike the other species of phalaropes, the  

Wilsonís  phalarope does not possess fully lobed toes, 

therefore it rarely swims. 
 

 

                                                                                                                                                       Wilson's phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor)

 WHERE DOES THE WILSON'S PHALAROPE LIVE?
 

The Wilsonís phalarope is primarily an  

inland  species, nesting on the grassy  

borders  of  shallow lakes, marshes, 

reservoirs, and gathers at inland  

saltwater  and alkali sites  before its fall  

migration.   These habitats that the  

Wilson's  phalarope occupies makes  

them vulnerable to  predators, such as  

the Marsh  Hawk. The  Wilsonís phalarope  

breeds primarily in the wetlands  that are scattered 

throughout the  interior western North  

America  and winters in  South America. 

                 Great Salt Lake Marsh with Wasatch Mountains to the east
 
WHAT DOES THE WILSON'S PHALAROPE EAT?
 
    Phalaropes feed on various aquatic organisms and crustaceans; including planktonic brine

shrimp, mosquito larva, brine flies and other invertebrates, which they capture by spinning their body in

 circles in the water while, at the same time rapidly stabbing at the surface with its needle-like bill.

WILSON'S PHALAROPE EXHIBIT SEX ROLE REVERSAL
 
    The Wilsonís phalarope is unusual among birds in that the sex roles are reversed.  The

female not only has the brighter plumage but also arrives first on the breeding ground and

advertises and competes for a mate.  Also, the male phalarope has to construct the nest,

incubate the eggs, and tend for the young.

WILSON'S PHALAROPE MIGRATION

    Around mid-June, female Wilsonís phalaropes begin arriving in large concentrations to the

shores of the Great Salt Lake from Canada.  Male phalaropes typically arrive at the Great Salt

Lake two weeks later than the females.  It has been estimated that 50% of the world's population

of Wilsonís phalarope stop at the Great Salt Lake during their fall migration. The annual

phalarope survey was conducted on July 29, 1998 and researchers counted approximately

300,000 birds which is approximately 100,000 more birds than previous years.

 

Feasting on the rich abundance of brine flies 

brine  shrimp, and other invertebrates, the phalaropes  

double their weight during their visit to the  

Great  Salt Lake.  Typically, the Wilsonís  

phalarope departs from the Great Salt Lake in 

late July  through August and fly  

approximately 54 hours non-stop, to reach  

their  wintering grounds in the inland saline  

lakes of Argentina,  Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. 
 

           Mar Chiguita Cordoda, Argentina Hemisphere Reserve
 
 

EARED GREBE IDENTIFICATION
 

The Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) is a  

small, stocky-bodied diving bird, which can  

be  characterized by it's  slender bill and  

neck,  slate-gray head and back with a  

contrasting  white chin, and whitish flanks  

and belly.   During the breeding season, the  

Eared  Grebe's plumage  undergoes various  

changes, which consist of a black  crested  

head with golden ear tufts, and a black  

neck  and  back with reddish flanks. 

                                                                                                                                 Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) in breeding plumage
 
    Also known as "hell-divers" and "water-witches",  the Eared Grebe is almost entirely an

aquatic waterbird.  The Eared Grebe's plumage is thickly covered with waterproof feathers,

which allows the Eared Grebe to sink easily and reduce its buoyancy by compressing its

plumage and internal air reservoirs in order to capture prey and escape predators.  Unlike most other diving birds, the

Eared Grebe doesn't posses webbed feet, but lobed feet, which are used to propel itself through the water.  Also, the

anatomy of the Eared Grebe, which is characterized by small wings, short tail, and leg placement towards the back end of

the body, makes it difficult for the Eared Grebe to maneuver on land and engage in flight.

WHERE DOES THE EARED GREBE LIVE?

    The Eared Grebe primarily inhabits shallow lakes, marshes, reservoirs, and gathers at inland

saltwater and alkali sites before it's fall migration.  Eared Grebes are typically found on all the

continents, except Antarctica.  The Eared Grebe, primarily breeds in the marshes and wetlands

of the interior North America and winters along the Pacific and Gulf coasts.

WHAT DOES THE EARED GREBE EAT?
 

The Eared Grebe feeds almost exclusively on  

aquatic insects and small crustaceans;  

including brine shrimp, plankton, and  

other invertebrates, which they catch  

by  diving underwater and capturing prey with  

their slender bills.  It is noted that Eared  

Grebes have become adapted somehow, in order to to  

be able to ingest large quantities of brine  

solution and survive.  Possible explanations  

suggest that the Eared Grebe's massive  

tongue, when feeding, releases the saline solution in it's  

beak back into the lake, leaving only shrimp to swallow. 

        Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) in adult plumage

EARED GREBE MIGRATION

    Towards the end of June, the Eared Grebe begins arriving in large concentrations to the

shores of Great Salt Lake, from the interior marshes and wetlands of North America.  During

1994, researchers counted approximately 400,000 Eared Grebes, which is the second largest

staging population in North America.  Feasting on the abundance of brine shrimp and

other invertebrates, the Eared Grebe often becomes so obese during their stay at the

Great Salt Lake, that they are unable to fly.   When this happens, the Eared Grebe remains

in order to rebuild their breast muscles, and to molt which are necessary actions for a successful

migration.  As winter approaches and the brine shrimp populations begin to dwindle, the Eared

Grebe departs from the Great Salt Lake and migrates to their wintering grounds along the

Pacific and Gulf coasts.  
 
 

 
                                                                                Picture of Eared Grebe courtesy of  Nghia Nguyen (1998)
 
 

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References:
 

Sorensen, Ella. (1997). "A Grebe Called Hope".  Seductive Beauty of Great Salt Lake.
       Gibbs-Smith: Salt Lake City.

Sorensen, Ella.  "Wison's Phalarope." The Salt Lake Tribune.  Aug. 25, 1998.
        pgs. C1 & C6.

Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Project
    (http://www.nr.state.ut.us/dwr/GSLECO.HTM)

Wharton, Tom. (ND) "The Great Salt Lake: Utah's Amazing Inland Sea". The Salt Lake
       Tribune. pgs. 12-13.      
 
Wilson's Phalarope picture
    (http://www.r6.fws.gov/REFUGES/AUDUBON/WPHALARO.GIF)

Eared Grebe pictures
    (http://eco.bio.lmu.edu/WWW_Nat_History/birds/orders/podi/grebe_e.htm)

Great Salt Lake and Mar Chiquita Cordoba pictures
     (http://people.westminstercollege.edu/faculty/r-ford/GSL/index.html)
 

Additional sites of interest:
 

Western Hemisphere Reserve Network
    (http://www.wetlands.ca/wi_a/whsrn/saltlake.html)

Robert Ford's virtual fieldtrip, Westminster College professor
    (http://people.westminstercollege.edu/faculty/r-ford/GSL/index.html)

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center
    (http://www.si.edu/organiza/museums/zoo/zooview/smbc/wiph.htm)

Eared Grebe, winter distribution map
    (http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/htm96/cbc622/ra0040.html)

Eared Grebe, summer distribution map
    (http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/htm96/map617/ra0040.html)

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
    (http://www.nr.state.ut.us/dwr/!homeypg.htm)

Utah Department of Natural Resources
     (http://www.nr.state.ut.us/)