Scavenger Hunt Grebes
From bands of gorillas to pods of seals, there’s often one animal in a group more popular than the others. The other animals will go out of their way to please this “leader of the pack.” A crow might offer sticks to help the most popular crow build its nest. If a wolf wants to impress the “top wolf,” it might bring back a tasty rabbit.
But here on the banks of Lake Blop in Mongolia, a unique species has taken this to a whole new level. Just a few metres away from me, a duck-like creature is holding in its beak...
...a bicycle horn. Meet the scavenger-hunt grebe, the bird world’s greatest collector!
My name is Hickory Slick. And welcome to Hickory Slick’s Weirdlife...with Hickory Slick.
The eager grebe has given the horn one last honk before dropping it on a pile of collected items. From here, I can see the pile includes several other bicycle horns, as well as a dozen red clown noses and a number of paintings of fruit.
Ah! And here comes the “boss-bird” grebe who is the leader of this pack. It’s wearing several flashy necklaces and is waddling on its tiptoes to make it seem taller. Now the boss-bird is taking a closer look at the bicycle horn. It bobs its head twice to the grebe that brought the horn. This means, “Eh, I’ve seen better, but this will do.” The grebe jumps up and down excitedly in front of the boss-bird. It appears the boss-bird has declared this grebe its new best friend.
Oh, but the boss-bird has just announced the next item it wants for its pile. If the new best friend wants to remain best friends, it better hop to it! The grebe is nodding. And...it’s off!
Where is it flying to? Lucky for us, my jetpack is already on my back and all fueled up. Let’s follow that grebe! Jetpack, activated!
We’ve now been flying for several hours. We’ve travelled far from where we started in Mongolia. We’ve just flown over the Arc de Triomphe. I’d say we’re in Paris! Aha! The scavenger-hunt grebe is swooping down towards the street. I’ll try to follow it...
Although, landing with a jetpack isn’t as easy as I expected. Aaah! OOF!
I’ve landed in someone’s soup!
Pardonne-moi, I’m— I’m terribly sorry, madame. I didn’t mean to land in your lunch. Good thing I am wearing my soup-proof trousers. You see, I’m Hickory Slick, the famous naturalist, and I was following a scavenger-hunt grebe, when—
Ah! There it is now, waddling into that gift shop across the street. The grebe doesn’t seem to care that there’s a sign on the door saying “No Grebes Allowed!” in French. I suspect the shop has already had some trouble with grebes.
Oh! Do you see that? The bird has come out of the shop again. That was fast! The gift shop owner is chasing after the bird! But it’s too late. The grebe has taken off into the sky with a souvenir clutched in its bill. It looks like the grebe has grabbed a mini Eiffel Tower statue! And judging by how mad the shop owner looks, I’ll bet the bird didn’t pay for it.
Now I must follow that bird. Jetpack, activated!
Here in the sky, I see that we’re racing back to Mongolia. And there are at least four other grebes flying with mini Eiffel Towers in their beaks! Yes, several birds are competing to be the best friend of our boss-bird back home.
Back at Lake Blop, a long line of very tired-looking scavenger-hunt grebes wait for the boss-bird to see their gifts.
There’s quite a variety of mini Eiffel Towers. Some are a bit taller than others. Some are covered in gold or silver paint. One of the mini Eiffel Towers is actually a keychain! The boss-bird looks very pleased with that one.
The grebe who brought the keychain is fanning its neck feathers. This gesture means, “I knew you’d like it.” The boss-bird is wagging its head. This gesture means, “Yes, even though I don’t own any keys – because I’m a bird – I do like the keychain.”
But, hold on! The attention of all the grebes has shifted. Another grebe has just landed. It has its own item to show off. But it did not bring a mini Eiffel Tower!
Sometimes a treasure-hunt grebe will decide enough is enough. Instead of fetching useless items for the top bird just so the bird will like them more, a grebe might decide to bring back an entirely different item. Why? For no reason other than they fancy it. In other words, they plan to keep the item for themselves. But that’s a great risk. Instead of being the boss-bird’s best friend, this grebe might become its twentieth-best and be completely ignored by the entire flock.
All the grebes are now waddling over to the surprise item. They seem very curious about it. If I can get a little closer, I can see just what the surprise item is.
Oh, my! This bold grebe has brought a small can with a picture of a cow on it. It’s a “moo box”. How unusual! I can say for certain that no grebe here has seen such a thing before. What’s a “moo box”? Well, if you pick it up and turn it over, like the grebe is doing right now...
...the box makes a moo-ing sound. All of the other grebes look very impressed. The boss-bird looks worried. The bird who has brought the “moo box” has begun to stand on its tiptoes. All of the other grebes are turning their backs on the boss-bird and turning towards the “moo-box” bird.
What can this mean? We’re witnessing the election of a new boss-bird! The old boss-bird has joined the crowd of treasure-hunt grebes. They are all waiting to hear what this new boss-bird wants them to collect.
Perhaps this new boss will be different from previous bosses. Perhaps it will request something that can be shared amongst the group. Perhaps it will even request something useful, like food or materials to build a nest.
The “moo-box” bird has announced its wish and all the treasure-hunt grebes fly off to find the very best...refrigerator magnet. And no, treasure-hunt grebes do not own refrigerators.
This has been Hickory Slick. Tune in next time for Hickory Slick’s Weirdlife...with me, Hickory Slick.