Horned Grebe


Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

The Horned Grebe is one of several species of grebes that live in Alberta. It is a small duck-like water bird that inhabits small freshwater ponds and marshes. In breeding plumage, it has a golden yellow patch of feathers behind its eyes - that can be raised or lowered at will - giving it the appearance of “horns.” 

Horned Grebe by Gerald Romanchuk

Horned Grebe by Gerald Romanchuk

Why they Matter to Us

Horned Grebes

  • are a Species at Risk. It is imperative we protect their habitat, to prevent them from disappearing entirely.
  • are an important part of their ecosystem, eating insects and larvae.
  • are awe inspiring to see in their natural habitat and exciting to watch - especially when they have babies riding around on their backs!

How You Can Help

  • Donate to help EALT protect crucial wetland habitat.
    • EALT protects wetland habitats important for horned grebes and other waterfowl. Horned grebes have been spotted at our Ministik and Glory Hills natural areas.
  •  Help keep your watershed healthy! We all live in a watershed and what we do in our very own yards has an impact on wetlands nearby.
    • Wash your car at the carwash or use biodegradable soap
    • Do not litter
    • If you are using fertilizers or pesticides on your lawn follow the directions carefully and pay attention to the weather

How to Identify

Identify by Sight

  • Horned grebes are 31–28 cm long with a short, pointed bill.
  • The front of its neck and upper breast are reddish during breeding season
  • The plumage of the male tends to be brighter. Its winter plumage is black and white and characterized by a black crown and white cheeks.
  • Chicks have dark stripes, which are particularly visible on the head and neck.

Identify in Flight

  • Like other grebes, P. auritus must run along the surface of the water in order to take-off.
  • Horned grebes fly quickly with rapid wing beats.
  • Their feet and neck are outstretched during flight and their head tilted downward.

Identify by Sound

This bird has different calls for greeting, mating, and warning. Click here to listen to the many sounds of the Horned Grebe!


Where to Find

Horned Grebes are found across North America, with most of its breeding range in Canada, extending from the Yukon, through the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. They live in small freshwater ponds and marshes containing a mixture of emergent vegetation and open water and have been observed in urban ponds in Edmonton and St Albert.

Photo by Denali National Park

Photo by Denali National Park

Horned Grebe family by Don Delaney

Horned Grebe family by Don Delaney

Social Life

  • Chicks are able to swim and dive immediately after hatching, but usually spend the majority of time on their parent’s backs during the first seven to 10 days. They nestle between their parent’s wings and ride along while the parents swim. They may even stay onboard during dives.

Food Chain

  • Horned Grebes eat aquatic insects, fish, crustaceans, and other small aquatic animals.
  • Young are fed adult’s feathers, a behaviour unique to grebes. This forms a plug of feathers in the stomach and may function as a filter or may hold fish bones in the stomach until they can be digested.
  • In order to be concealed from predators, they build cryptic, floating nests in mats of emergent vegetation. Grebes may be preyed upon by hawks, osprey, weasels, fishers and other predators.

Fun Facts

  • Horned grebes are excellent swimmers and divers. During dives they may stay underwater for up to three minutes and travel 150-200 meters. 
  • They sleep by resting their neck on their back and tucking one foot under a wing and then use the other foot to manoeuvre in the water.

  • Grebes are awkward on land and spend the majority of their time swimming or floating on the water. Their legs are set so far back on their bodies that they are hardly able to walk.