Quirks & Quarks

The Secret to Walking - or Running - on Water

The Western Grebe runs on water as part of a courtship display, and researchers are trying to understand how.

Birds slap the water to run on it

Clark's Grebes "rushing" (Menke Dave, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
The Western Grebe is a water-bird but it doesn't just float in the water.  It's the largest animal to have mastered the difficult feat of running on the surface of water.

As part of their courtship and mating rituals, the birds perform a manoeuvre known as "rushing", in which they tuck their wings back, rise up, and run across the water in bursts that may last eight seconds and cover many meters.

Glenna Clifton, a PhD candidate in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, used high-speed video and laboratory experiments to determine how the birds manage the remarkable feat with their feet.

Related Links

- Paper in The Journal of Experimental Biology
- Inside JEB article
Science News article
National Geographic story