Horned Grebe: Small grebe, red-brown neck, breast and flanks, nearly black throat and back. Head has black cap, white face, conspicuous buff-orange to yellow ear plumes. Bill is dark with white tip, eyes are dark red. Feeds on aquatic insects, fish and crustaceans. Direct flight on rapid wing beats.
Range and Habitat
Horned Grebe: Breeds from Alaska and northern Canada to Washington and the Dakotas. Winters in the Aleutians and along the Pacific coast to California, and along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts to Texas. Breeds on prairie and freshwater lakes with both open waters and marsh vegetation; also nests in marshes, small sloughs, ponds, and occasionally on rivers.
The PODICIPEDIFORMES pronounced (po-dih-seh-pih-PEH-dih-FOR-meez) is composed of one family of nearly worldwide distribution: the grebes.
The grebes or Podicipedidae (pronounced po-dih-seh-pih-PEH-dih-dee) include twenty-one species in six genera found on all continents except Antarctica including two extinct species, the Aloatra Grebe of Madagascar and the Atitlan Grebe of Guatemala.
In North America, there are eight species of grebes in four genera (including the extinct Atitlan Grebe). Members of this family include the long and slender-necked Western and Clark’s Grebes, and the plump Pied-billed Grebe.
The grebes are mostly known for their heavily aquatic nature including the ability to sink underwater with only their head visible above the surface. The Clark’s and Western Grebes are also known for their exciting courtship displays that involve birds rearing up to splash across the surface of the water in tandem.
Small to medium in size, grebes have rounded bodies with very short tails, medium length wings, and a longish, thin neck. Their lobed feet are located far back on their bodies as befits their aquatic environments, and their bills are adapted to catching fish in three different shapes; long and thin, short and thin, and short and narrow.
Most grebe species during the non-breeding season are dark brown or gray above and white on the underparts. During the breeding season, some species molt into darker plumage with reddish tones and beautiful golden plumes or black and white patterns on the head. Bill color also becomes bright orange or yellow in a few species while the Pied-billed Grebe’s bill acquires a dark, vertical line.
In North America, members of this family breed in calm, shallow freshwater marshes and lakes from Alaska and northern Canada to oxbow lakes along the Rio Grande in Texas. During the winter, most species frequent ice-free coastal waters and large lakes of North America.
Except for the Least Grebe of southern Texas and tropical wetlands further south, all grebes migrate to bays, large lakes, and other coastal habitats in North America.
Although most species are solitary during breeding, Clark’s and Western Grebes nest in large colonies. They are highly vocal at this time but become much quieter during the winter. At all times of the year grebes feed on fish by catching them underwater on frequent dives.
All grebe species in North America have healthy populations although some are potentially threatened by oil spills. Elsewhere, a few localized species are threatened by changes to their wetland habitats such as drainage schemes and the introduction of non-native fish species that compete with grebes over food.
Grebes are so evolved to an aquatic existence that they build floating nests, have dense, waterproof plumage that can be adjusted for buoyancy, and need to taxi on the water’s surface to fly. Grebes are reluctant to fly in general, and two species in South America are actually flightless.