Grebe Conservation Program 

Western Grebes rushing on Lake Hodges CA




Western and Clark's Grebes are arguably the birds most readily associated with Lake Hodges. They are visible year around in great numbers. Grebes mainly eat fish, catching them by diving in open water. Both species have dramatic, choreographed courtship display, in which the birds rush across the water together. These large, elegant black and white water birds breed here in the winter months. During mating season they engage in a maneuver called rushing, in which they sprint up to 50 feet across the water in coordinated groups of two or more in about seven seconds.


** Please note that all photos of nesting Grebes and nests were taken from the trail, with long telephoto lens. 

Nesting Grebe on Lake Hodges - 2017



The purpose of our continuing project is to document the varied behaviors of the Western and Clarks Grebes that inhabit the waters of Lake Hodges in San Diego County and work on a plan with the City of San Diego to save the Grebe nests. Because the waters are a result of a purpose-built reservoir for drinking water it is important to understand these behaviors in order to liaise with the public utilities department that owns the lake on ways to effectively manage the water levels during breeding season. 


For the past few years the lake has been home to hundreds of nesting grebes. Once a migratory visitor to the lake in the winter these birds have now taken up permanent residence on the lake. The population of the colony has increased steadily over the past years, this in combination with the ease of access to the lake by both shoreline and boat has made Lake Hodges an eco destination for viewing the Grebes.


Grebe nesting colony 2019 - over 130 nests

The problem occurs when we receive considerable amounts of rainfall that cause the lake to fill into the shallow mud flat areas. Southern California historically does not receive these types of rains until the winter and into spring, about the same time the grebes on the lake are preparing for nesting. The flooding of these areas that are normally dry and full of wetland plants become prime habitat for nesting. 


The public utilities department is mandated by the State of California to keep the reservoir at a certain level due to the safety of the dam. Because there has been no management plan in place to address the nesting grebes during these water influxes the lowering of the water levels has resulted in nest failures throughout the colony, which in turn has caused public outcry.



We have been on the forefront for years in talking with the public and agencies involved on how to address this problem and come to a workable solution that would benefit both the water department and the grebe colony.


Using our photographical documentation of the conservation efforts with the grebes throughout the years we have created informational flyers that specify were nesting sites are and what to look for in order to better help boaters and other users understand their potential impacts to these sites. These flyers have been done in coordination with the outlying open space agency and lake staff.


We have lead workshops on grebe behavior at the lake, independently and as part of San Diegos bird festival for the past three years. We have been able to bring awareness about the Grebes to many of the local Audubon chapters and photography clubs through a series of informational presentations. We will be sharing this presentation and updates about our progress at next year’s Southern California NANPA regional event. 


Western Grebe with chick.



Mid August of 2019 at a meeting with the Public Utilities department Dave was asked to be a official liaison with the City of San Diego to help form a management plan that will hopefully be ready by next nesting season.


We will be keeping in contact with the city on many aspects of grebe behavior, especially during nesting season for 2020 and moving forward. This will include informational as well as regulatory signage concerning grebe nesting sites. A public outreach program to raise awareness and the possibility of using artificial floating platforms as nesting sites. We are happy to provide old and new photos and data.


Please stay tuned on our progress and wish the best for these sweet birds. We hope to see many chicks in the future and share our love for these amazing birds with you. If you have any questions please feel free to conatct us.

Please enjoy a few photos of our Western and Clark's Grebes here at Lake Hodges, CA.

Photos by the project co-leaders Krisztina Scheeff with KS Nature Photography and David Hekel (aka Ranger Dave) with the San Dieguito River Park.


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