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A photo of a Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

Podiceps auritus

The Horned Grebe, known scientifically as Podiceps auritus, is a small waterbird with a striking appearance. During the breeding season, it dons a red-and-black plumage and is notable for its "horns" – tufts of yellowish feathers behind its eyes that can be raised and lowered. Measuring 31–38 cm in length, with a wingspan of 55–74 cm and weighing 300–570 g, it has a moderately long neck and a flat forehead. The beak is straight, pointed, and tipped with white.

Identification Tips

In breeding plumage, the Horned Grebe exhibits black fan-shaped cheek feathers and chestnut brown on the neck, flanks, lores, and upper-chest, with a black crown and back. The belly is a dull white. In non-breeding plumage, the bird is predominantly black and white, with a less distinct line separating the cheeks and crown. Juveniles resemble non-breeding adults but are duller with a brown-tinged back and a paler beak.

Habitat

Horned Grebes favor shallow freshwater ponds, marshes, and lake edges with emergent vegetation such as sedges, rushes, and cattails. These environments provide nesting material, anchorage, and protection for their young.

Distribution

The species is found across northern Europe and Asia, as well as North America. The Eurasian subspecies, P. a. auritus, breeds from Greenland to the Russian Far East, while the North American subspecies, P. a. cornutus, is found across Canada and parts of the United States.

Behaviour

Horned Grebes are known for their elaborate mating rituals, including several pair bonding ceremonies. They are aggressive in defending their nests and are generally solitary or found in small groups.

Song & Calls

The Horned Grebe's vocal repertoire includes a loud, nasally "aaarrh" call that descends in pitch and ends in a trill. They are particularly vocal during breeding and territory defense, with a subdued song during migration and wintering.

Breeding

Monogamous pairs engage in complex displays before copulation, which occurs on a nest built from plant matter. They lay a single clutch of three to eight eggs, with both parents sharing incubation duties for 22 to 25 days. Chicks can swim and dive within days of hatching and often ride on their parents' backs for warmth.

Similar Species

The Horned Grebe can be confused with the Black-necked Grebe, which has a steeper forehead, a more slender bill, and a fluffier rump.

Diet and Feeding

These grebes dive to feed on aquatic arthropods, fish, and crustaceans, and have a unique adaptation of swallowing their own feathers to aid in digesting fish bones.

Conservation Status

The Horned Grebe is currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, with a global population decline of 30% over the last three decades. Threats include human disturbance, habitat loss, and competition for food due to introduced fish species. Conservation efforts are underway to address these challenges.

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Horned Grebe Fun Facts

Did you know?
Horned Grebes will ride on their parents backs and have even been observed diving underwaters on the back of their parent.

Horned Grebes on Birda

Sightings

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A photo of a Clark's Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii)

Clark's Grebe

Aechmophorus clarkii
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