Home Smithsonian: National Museum of Natural History Home
Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Collection: Species Details Lewis and Clark as Naturalists
Bird    Species Name:
Aechmophorus clarkii

Common Name:
Clark's Grebe


Fort Clatsop, Oregon   March 7, 1806

Name recognition

The Clark’s Grebe was initially described by Lewis as a small loon.  Eventually, this bird was equated with the Western Grebe and, more recently (1985), was recognized by the American Ornithologists' Union as a distinct species, the Clark’s Grebe.  Oh, the subtleties of identification, Clark's grebe wears a black skull cap that sits above the eye (see photo on right).  The western grebe has a nearly identical black cap, only it is pulled down below the eyes.  A second, and even more delicate distinction is the color of the bill.  The western grebe has a green tinge coloring the bill, whereas the Clark's grebe lacks that wash.

The valid scientific publication for the bird (see references below) did not come for more than a half century after Lewis' description, and final acceptance of Clark's grebe took another 127 years beyond that, or 177 years to get it right!

Of minor historical interest in all this is the involvement of the Smithsonian's first two Secretaries, Joseph Henry, and Spencer Fullerton Baird, respectively.  Both men were responsible for editing and revising the volumes dealing with the soil, climate, geology, botany and zoology of the regions surveyed.  Baird, incidentally, and among his other achievements, was an ornithologist.

Journal Entries:

Capt. Lewis, March 7, 1806--There are two speceis of loons. Ist. the Speckled loon found on every part of the rivers of this ...  more>>

References Lawrence, George Newbold, Reports of explorations and surveys: to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean//made under the direction of the Secretary of War, in 1853-54, according to acts of Congress, March 3, 1853, May 31, 1854, and August 5, 1854. Proc. 9. PP. 892, 894., Beverly Tucker, 1858

see following caption

Other Skull Views:
Clark's grebe skull, side

See following caption
Clark's grebe

See following caption
Clark's grebe, feet

See following caption
Clark's grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii)

Smithsonian Institution
Copyright Notice
Privacy Notice