How Grebes Build Floating Nests That Keep Their Eggs High and Dry

Dead and rotting aquatic plants are the Pied-billed Grebe's nesting materials of choice.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote!

The call of this water bird, the Pied-billed Grebe, is unusual isn’t it! Their nests are unusual too – little platforms of plant material that float on water, hidden behind vegetation. 

We’re with Martin Muller, an expert who loves unraveling the mysteries of Pied-billed Grebes: 

“Well, there’s the nest…there it is! We didn’t even see it because we were standing on the wrong side of the cattails, so if we step back a little bit…without the bird seeing…us directly staring at it, it’ll carry on.” 

The birds are diving for decaying plant material, picking it up from the bottom of the lake, piling it up until it forms a floating mass.

“Now this will gradually sink so they keep adding on to it… and when the first egg is laid, it can be laid in a puddle of water – it will be that flimsy a structure – and then what they do is they add on more plant material on the side of, the rim of, the nest and as they turn the eggs. They’ll actually grab the plant material and tuck it underneath the eggs, and that way they raise the eggs out of the water until they’re high and dry after a couple of days.” 

“Then one of the fascinating things is the dead and decaying plant material actually gives off heat, that helps some of the incubation of the eggs…not completely, but it helps a little bit…”

You can learn more and see photos of a nest and of newly hatched Pied-billed Grebes, at



Featuring Martin Muller

Interview by John Kessler

Story by Chris Peterson

Narrator: Michael Stein 

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Call of Pied-billed Grebe [105421] recorded by G.A. Keller.

BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2013 Tune In to   May 2017