Photo: Scott Helfrich/Audubon Photography Awards

Western Grebe

Aechmophorus occidentalis

Western Grebes are highly gregarious at all seasons, nesting in colonies and wintering in flocks. Their thin, reedy calls are characteristic sounds of western marshes in summer.
Conservation status Around beginning of 20th century, tens of thousands were killed for their feathers. Apparent recovery since, and has begun breeding in new areas not occupied historically. Mexican populations of both Western and Clark's grebes may be declining as cutting of tules on lakes removes nesting habitat.
Family Grebes
Habitat Rushy lakes, sloughs; in winter, bays, ocean. Summers mainly on fresh water lakes with large areas of both open water and marsh vegetation; rarely on tidal marshes. Winters mainly on sheltered bays or estuaries on coast, also on large fresh water lakes, rarely on rivers.
Western Grebes are highly gregarious at all seasons, nesting in colonies and wintering in flocks. Their thin, reedy calls are characteristic sounds of western marshes in summer.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages by diving from surface and swimming underwater, propelled mainly by feet. Western and Clark's are only grebes having structure in neck allowing rapid spear-like thrusting of bill; may be useful in spearing fish, but use of this behavior is not well known.


Eggs

2-4, rarely 1-6. Pale bluish white, becoming nest-stained brown. Incubation by both sexes, about 24 days. Hatching not synchronized; last egg may be abandoned in nest. Young: Climb onto back of parent within minutes after hatching, soon leave nest; are fed by both parents. Patch of bare yellow skin on head of young turns scarlet when young beg for food or are separated from parents. Age at first flight about 10 weeks. One brood per year.


Young

Climb onto back of parent within minutes after hatching, soon leave nest; are fed by both parents. Patch of bare yellow skin on head of young turns scarlet when young beg for food or are separated from parents. Age at first flight about 10 weeks. One brood per year.

Diet

Mostly fish. Apparently feeds mainly on fish at all seasons and in all habitats. Also known to eat crustaceans, insects, polychaete worms, salamanders. Like other grebes, also eats feathers.


Nesting

Breeds in colonies. Courtship displays elaborate and complex. Most conspicuous is a display in which two (or more) irds rear up to upright posture and rush across surface of water side by side, with loud pattering of feet, diving underwater at end of rush; other displays include "dancing" on water with bits of weed held in bill. Nest: Site is in shallow water marsh. Nest (built by both sexes) a floating heap of plant material, anchored to standing vegetation.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates at night, probably in flocks. Most birds from northern part of range migrate west to Pacific Coast. Some southwestern and Mexican populations probably permanent residents.

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Migration

Migrates at night, probably in flocks. Most birds from northern part of range migrate west to Pacific Coast. Some southwestern and Mexican populations probably permanent residents.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A rolling kr-r-rick, kr-r-rick! sounded most often on breeding grounds but sometimes heard in winter.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Grebes Duck-like Birds

Western Grebe

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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