At a Glance
A small diver found mostly on northern marshes in summer, coastal bays in winter. Also widespread in Eurasia, where it is called Slavonian Grebe. Similar to Eared Grebe, but much less gregarious, it seldom nests in colonies and seldom gathers in large flocks at other seasons. Like other grebes, it must patter across surface of water to become airborne; may become trapped when waters freeze quickly overnight.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Duck-like Birds, Grebes
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Open Ocean, Saltwater Wetlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, 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
Usually migrates singly. May migrate by day along coast, usually at night over land. A change in overall winter range detected in recent years, with more and more wintering on man-made reservoirs in the southeastern states.
12-15" (30-38 cm). Summer plumage known by reddish neck, buffy-gold "horns" on black head. Winter plumage can be much like Eared Grebe, but usually looks cleaner black and white, with white cheeks, pale spot before eye, thicker bill. Much more compact than Red-necked Grebe, with darker bill.
About the size of a Crow, About the size of a Robin
Black, Gray, Red, White, Yellow
Songs and Calls
Usually silent. On breeding grounds a variety of croaks, shrieks, and chatters.
Flat, Rising, Undulating
Rattle, Trill, Yodel
Lakes, ponds; coastal waters. Summers on lakes having both open water and marsh vegetation, surrounded by northern forest, prairie, sometimes out onto southern edges of tundra. Winters mainly on ocean, including protected bays and exposed shores. Also some in winter on large lakes and reservoirs, more commonly so in recent years.
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4-6, sometimes 3-7. Whitish to very pale green or buff, becoming nest-stained. Both sexes incubate, 22-25 days.
Can swim shortly after hatching; fed by both parents, and often ride on parents' backs. Age at first flight 55-60 days. One brood per year, sometimes 2; young from first brood may help in feeding of second.
Forages by diving from surface and swimming underwater, propelled by feet. Also takes items from on or above water's surface. Usually solitary in feeding, but flocks may rarely forage cooperatively; has been seen foraging in association with Surf Scoters.
Mostly insects, crustaceans, fish. Diet varies with habitat and season. In summer may eat mainly insects and crustaceans, also some fish, tadpoles, leeches, salamanders, small amounts of plant material. May eat mostly fish in winter, also crustaceans, mollusks, insects. Like other grebes, also swallows many feathers.
Courtship displays involve posturing by both members of pair; both rise to vertical position on water with head feathers fully raised, turning heads rapidly; both dive and come up with bits of weed in bills, then rush across surface of water side by side carrying weeds. Nest: Site is in shallow water, usually among marsh growth. Nest (built by both sexes) a floating heap of wet plant material (with depression in middle for eggs), usually anchored to standing vegetation.
Thought to have declined in recent decades, although solid data are mostly lacking.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Horned Grebe. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Horned 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.