At a Glance
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.
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, Saltwater Wetlands
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Great Lakes, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Rapid Wingbeats
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
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.
22-29" (56-74 cm). Slender, long-necked, long-billed, sharply black and white. Compare to Clark's Grebe, also to loons in winter plumage.
About the size of a Heron, About the size of a Mallard or Herring Gull
Black, Red, White, Yellow
Songs and Calls
A rolling kr-r-rick, kr-r-rick! sounded most often on breeding grounds but sometimes heard in winter.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Western Grebe. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Western 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.