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Pied-billed Grebe

Podilymbus podiceps ORDER: PODICIPEDIFORMES FAMILY: PODICIPEDIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Part bird, part submarine, the Pied-billed Grebe is common across much of North America. These small brown birds have unusually thick bills that turn silver and black in summer. These expert divers inhabit sluggish rivers, freshwater marshes, lakes, and estuaries. They use their chunky bills to kill and eat large crustaceans along with a great variety of fish, amphibians, insects, and other invertebrates. Rarely seen in flight and often hidden amid vegetation, Pied-billed Grebes announce their presence with loud, far-reaching calls.

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Keys to identification Help

Ducklike
Ducklike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Pied-billed Grebes are small, chunky swimming birds. They have compact bodies and slender necks, with relatively large, blocky heads and short, thick bills. They have virtually no tail.

  • Color Pattern

    These are brown birds, slightly darker above and more tawny-brown on the underparts. During spring and summer, the crown and nape are dark and the throat is black. While breeding, the bill is whitish with a black band (“pied’), but otherwise is yellow-brown. Juveniles have striped faces.

  • Behavior

    Pied-billed Grebes can adjust their buoyancy and often use this ability to float with just the upper half of the head above the water. They catch small fish and invertebrates by diving or simply slowly submerging. They build floating nests of cattails, grasses, and other vegetation.

  • Habitat

    Look for Pied-billed Grebes on small, quiet ponds and marshes where thick vegetation grows out of the water. In winter they occurs on larger water bodies, occasionally in large groups.

Range Map Help

Pied-billed Grebe Range Map
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Similar Species

The Least Grebe of southern Texas is darker and even smaller than Pied-billed Grebe; it has a thin, pointed bill, yellow eyes, and whitish flanks. The two other small grebe species, Horned Grebe and Eared Grebe, are more slender, with thinner bills. They are black-and-white in winter and reddish-and-black in summer, not brown like Pied-billed Grebe. Small ducks, such as Green-winged Teal, have flatter, longer bills; and typically have patterned feathers on the sides.

Find This Bird

Pied-billed Grebes are widespread and fairly common in most of the U.S. and southern Canada, and you should not have too much trouble finding them, particularly in summer on larger ponds and smaller lakes with ample emergent vegetation, such as cattails and bulrushes. Particularly watch the edges of emergent vegetation and look for roughly circular masses of floating, dead vegetation that might be Pied-billed Grebe nests. In winter, look for the species on larger water bodies where it often aggregates into small flocks. The distinctive very small body and comparatively large, blocky head is a good shape to look for. These birds spend a lot of time diving, so make several scans of a body of water before moving on.

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