Not a kind of predation I expected
On November 15th I drove down to San Marcos, a town about 40 miles south of where I live in Austin, to explore a place I’d discovered on the Internet, the Spring Lake Natural Area. Near the farthest place that I hiked to was a small pond, and on it what I took to be a small duck.* I switched to my longest lens, which I wished could have been longer, and took a few pictures. Then I walked a short distance past some cattails at the edge of the pond, and when I caught sight of the bird again a minute later it seemed to have something white in its mouth. A look through my lens revealed, to my surprise, that the white thing was a frog. Holding the frog in its beak, the bird tossed its own head back and forth, a movement that seemed intended to injure or kill the frog, though I didn’t understand why the bird would want to do that to an animal that I thought was too large for it to eat. After a while I couldn’t see the frog anymore, and I assumed it had either gotten loose or died, had swum or sunk beneath the water. Or maybe I was wrong and the bird had managed to swallow the frog after all.
* Commenters [see below] suggested that this isn’t a duck but a double-crested cormorant or a grebe. I did some research that provided evidence for this being a pied-billed grebe, Podilymbus podiceps. In The Birds of Texas, John L. Tveten writes: “A pied-billed grebe might be mistaken for a small duck, but the beak is like that of a chicken.” In photographs that I took of this bird without the frog in its mouth, the beak does look like a chicken’s rather than a duck’s. I even found a page online that shows three pictures of a pied-billed grebe attempting to swallow and then swallowing a large frog.
© 2012 Steven Schwartzman