Yawning Pied-Billed Grebe

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Pied-billed Grebes are not the most beautiful of aquatic birds.  Their brown plumage is, frankly, drab.  A photograph of one of these little divers just sitting on the water can be pretty boring.

Fortunately these grebes make up in personality for what they lack in pizazz.  They are often hyperactive, diving incessantly, preening, splashing, and engaging in dominance games as they chase each other around whatever pond they inhabit.

I was having an unproductive morning a few weeks ago when I saw a grebe sitting on a pond.  The bird wasn’t doing anything, just sitting there, and I quickly began to lose interest in it.  But, then it did something remarkable.  It yawned.  It was in fact, the mother of all yawns, the bird’s mouth gaping wide open.  I captured this image.


I watched grebe repeat its yawns several times.  Then, it was gone, diving beneath the surface and swimming away underwater.

I was surprised to see this but, in fact, I shouldn’t have been.  Researchers have discovered that yawning is not at all unusual among birds.  And, so is contagious yawning.  If one bird in a flock yawns, several others are likely to do so as well.  However, no one really knows what biological function yawning serves.  It is a reflex associated with sleepiness but researchers haven’t discovered why that is so.  It’s just as much a mystery when birds do it as when people yawn.

Image made with Canon 5Diii, 100-400 mm f4-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, ISO 640, f8 @ 1/1000.

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