The Horned Grebe is a relatively small duck-like waterbird that is 31-38 cm in length, and weighs 300 to 500 grams. The Horned Grebe is most recognizable in its breeding plumage, during which time it has a black head and neck with a bright cream coloured stripe from eye to crown in the shape of a horn. They have distinctive bright red eyes, a black back, and red-brown sides. Their non-breeding plumage has more grey tones and lacks the cream coloured stripe. During flight, the Horned Grebe can be recognized by their constant wing beats and feet trailing behind their tail. Males and females are similar in appearance, but males generally have brighter plumage especially during breeding season.
The Horned Grebe dives down into the water to capture most of their food, which they will bring to the surface to eat. Common prey includes fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and mollusks. They will also capture insects from the air, the surface of the water, or from plants. They will sometimes forage in flocks in order to coordinate their efforts for a bigger catch.
Biology and Behaviour:
The Horned Grebe usually returns to their same breeding grounds already in pairs. For those still single, the males will perform spectacular courtship displays. They usually nest alone, but may form loose colonies in areas where there are sufficient resources. The Horned Grebe builds their nest into emergent vegetation along a shoreline or in shallow water. Many use cattails and Sphagnum moss. Dates for nesting and egg-laying largely depend on the weather each year. An average of 5 or 6 eggs are laid, and nestlings will rely on parents for 2 to 3 weeks after hatching.
Eggs and hatchlings are vulnerable to predators like raccoons, mink, several corvid and gull species, and even some fish like the northern pike or muskellunge. Adults may be preyed on by mink and foxes.
- The Eared Grebe has a darker neck and cheeks, with cream coloured head plumage that is fan-shaped.
- Pied-billed Grebes have a bill and neck that is thicker and shorter with a black ring near the base
- The Red-necked Grebe lacks the cream coloured horn, and has a larger bill and white-grey cheeks in breeding plumage
Conservation and recovery strategies:
This species is listed as Special Concern, so nothing is being done to directly help the population. However, policy changes and enforcement to protect wetlands would be the most effective way to protect the Horned Grebe and other aquatic and wetland species. Actions should be taken to prevent agricultural runoff and pollutants from reaching waterways. Wetlands could be further protected through legislation that limits or rejects development in areas of key habitat.
- If a mother Horned Grebe is frightened off her nest, she may kick nearby vegetation onto the eggs in order to camouflage them
- Grebe toes are individually lobed, rather than having a proper webbed foot
- Male Horned Grebes are very territorial against many waterfowl species, but have been known to lose territory to Pied-billed Grebes
Bezener, A. 2000. Birds of Ontario. Lone Pine Publishing, Edmonton, AB.
COSEWIC. 2009. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus, Western population and Magdalen Islands population, in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vii + 42 pp. (www.sararegistry.gc.ca/status/status_e.cfm).
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