Bird GuideGrebesEared Grebe

At a Glance

A common grebe of freshwater lakes in the west. Gregarious at all seasons; nests in dense colonies, sometimes congregates in huge numbers on lakes during migration and winter. Probably as an adaptation to life in the arid west, it is flexible in distribution, quickly taking advantage of temporary or man-made new bodies of water.
Duck-like Birds, Grebes
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Migration begins earlier in fall than in Horned Grebe. Generally migrates at night. Some birds migrate southeast from breeding range to winter near Gulf Coast.


12-14" (30-36 cm). Summer plumage known by black neck, buffy-gold "ears" on side of black head. Winter plumage like Horned Grebe but duller, dingier, with darker cheeks, gray on neck, whitish ear patches near back of head. Bill thinner, slightly upturned; head more peaked.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Gray, Red, White, Yellow
Wing Shape
Tail Shape

Songs and Calls

On breeding grounds, frog-like cheeping notes.
Call Pattern
Flat, Rising
Call Type
Scream, Trill, Yodel


Prairie lakes, ponds; in winter, open lakes, salt bays. Favored nesting areas are lakes or large ponds with extensive marshy borders. Opportunistic, it may quickly occupy new or temporary habitats. During migration and winter, mainly on large freshwater or alkaline lakes. Also on coastal bays, but seen less often on ocean than Horned Grebe.



Usually 3-5, rarely 1-6. Whitish at first, becoming nest-stained brown. Incubation (by both sexes) about 21 days.


Leave nest after last egg hatches, are tended and fed by both parents. Adults may separate, each taking part of brood. Young may ride on parents' backs when small. May be independent by 21 days after hatching; age at first flight not well known. One brood per year, rarely 2.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by diving and swimming underwater, propelled by feet. Also takes many insects and other items from surface of water.


Mostly insects and crustaceans. Feeds on insects (such as aquatic beetles, dragonfly larvae, flies, mayflies), crustaceans, mollusks, tadpoles, a few small fish. During autumn stopover on large alkaline lakes, may feed mainly on brine shrimp. Young are fed mainly on insects. Like other grebes, sometimes eats feathers.


Courtship displays are complex. Male and female may swim side by side while turning heads and calling loudly; also face each other while rearing up out of water and turning heads from side to side; at climax of display, pair may rear up to vertical position and rush across surface of water side by side. Nest: Built by both sexes, a floating platform of weeds, anchored to standing vegetation in shallow water.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Populations generally stable, but vulnerable because large numbers depend on just a few major lakes at some seasons (such as Great Salt Lake, Mono Lake, Salton Sea).

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Eared Grebe. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Eared Grebe

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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