Horned Grebe

Podiceps auritus
Horned Grebe specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (12-15 inches) grebe, the Horned Grebe in summer is most easily identified by its dark back and head, brown neck and flanks, and conspicuous yellow feather plumes on the head. In winter, this species becomes black above and pale below. This species is perhaps most easily confused with the related Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis); that species may be separated from the Horned Grebe in summer by its black neck and flanks and in winter by its darker neck and face. The Horned Grebe occurs across wide area of the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, this species breeds across central Alaska, western Canada, and locally in the western United States, wintering along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Baja California, along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to Texas, inland in the southeastern U.S., and locally in the interior west. In the Old World, this species breeds from Iceland and Scotland east to eastern Siberia, wintering as far south as the Mediterranean Sea and the Korean peninsula. Horned Grebes breed in small ponds and shallow marshes, preferring areas with thick vegetation to more open water. In winter, this species may be found on large bodies of water, including lakes, bays, and inshore waters near the coast. Horned Grebes primarily eat small insects in summer, switching to small fish during the winter. In appropriate habitat, Horned Grebes may be observed floating low in the water, periodically diving down to capture prey. Like most grebes, this species must run and flap along the surface of the water in order to become airborne, subsequently flying swiftly low over the water. Also like most grebes, this species’ legs are positioned at the far end of its body, making it an adept swimmer but rendering it almost entirely unable to move on land. Horned Grebes are most active during the day.

DC Information

Abundant migrant, wintering in large flocks, from October to May. Seen in open salt and fresh water. Summer plumage is gold, red, and black; winter plumage is gray and white. Sexes are similar.

Specimen Information

This record is for the bird on the right (in breeding plumage).
Date:  4/25/1881
Collected By:  Henry Horan
Locality:  Potomac River
Sex:  Male
Catalog ID:  82316
The bird on the left is an adult in winter (non-breeding) plumage.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC26933 Podiceps auritus (Horned Grebe)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC64868 Podiceps auritus (Horned Grebe)