Pied-billed GrebePodilymbus podiceps

adult, breeding
Garth McElroy/VIREO
juvenile
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO
breeding adult with chicks
Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO

Family

Description

The most widespread grebe in the New World, and the most familiar in most temperate parts of North America. Far less sociable than most grebes, almost never in flocks, sometimes found singly on small marshy ponds. When disturbed or suspicious, it may sink slowly until only head is above water. Rarely seen in flight. Often secretive in the breeding season, hiding in marsh, making bizarre whinnying, gobbling, cooing noises by day or night.

Habitat

Ponds, lakes, marshes; in winter, also salt bays. In breeding season, chooses sites with heavy marsh vegetation but with some open water also. In migration and winter, still most likely on marshy freshwater ponds, but also on more open waters, including estuaries and coastal bays.

Feeding Diet

Insects, fish, other aquatic life. Diet highly variable with location and season; probably eats most small aquatic creatures in its habitat. Major food items include aquatic insects, crustaceans, small fish, leeches; also eats mollusks, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, spiders, small amounts of aquatic plants. Like other grebes, swallows many feathers, and feeds feathers to its young.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by diving from surface and swimming underwater, propelled mainly by feet.

Nesting

Where climate allows, may have a long breeding season, from early spring to mid-autumn. Courtship displays less ritualized than in most grebes, involving much calling, sometimes in duet. Nest: Site is in shallow water in marsh, next to opening so that birds can approach nest underwater. Nest (built by both sexes) a dense mass of plant material, floating or built up from bottom, anchored to standing vegetation. Eggs: 4-7, rarely 2-10. Pale bluish white, becoming stained brownish. Incubation by both sexes (female does more), about 23 days. Eggs are covered with nest material when incubating bird departs. Young: Can swim soon after hatching. Young are fed by both parents, often ride on parents' backs when small; adults may swim underwater with young on back. Age at first flight not well known. One or 2 broods per year, possibly more in south.

Eggs

4-7, rarely 2-10. Pale bluish white, becoming stained brownish. Incubation by both sexes (female does more), about 23 days. Eggs are covered with nest material when incubating bird departs. Young: Can swim soon after hatching. Young are fed by both parents, often ride on parents' backs when small; adults may swim underwater with young on back. Age at first flight not well known. One or 2 broods per year, possibly more in south.

Young

Can swim soon after hatching. Young are fed by both parents, often ride on parents' backs when small; adults may swim underwater with young on back. Age at first flight not well known. One or 2 broods per year, possibly more in south.

Conservation

Still common and widespread, but surveys show declines in recent decades.

Range

Southern populations may be permanently resident, northern ones strongly migratory. Apparently migrates mostly at night. Migration relatively late in fall, early in spring.

Listen

song with extended braying at end
chatter duets
chatter call
song duet
immature begging calls
song

Similar Species

adult, breeding

Eared Grebe

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.

breeding adults with fledglings

Least Grebe

A tiny diver of the American tropics, entering our area mainly in southern Texas. Seems to fly more readily than most grebes, and may colonize temporary ponds or flooded areas shortly after they form. Often seen swimming and diving on small ponds or ditches in pursuit of aquatic insects, its main food. Sometimes the Least Grebe hides in dense marshes, where its presence may be revealed by metallic trilling calls, often given as a duet by members of a mated pair.

adult, breeding

Horned Grebe

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.

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