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Western Grebe

Aechmophorus occidentalis ORDER: PODICIPEDIFORMES FAMILY: PODICIPEDIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A large, elegant, black-and-white grebe, the Western Grebe breeds in lakes and ponds across the American West and winters primarily off the Pacific Coast. The very similar Clark's Grebe was long thought to be the same species. Both species have a dramatic, choreographed courtship display, in which the birds rush across the water with their long necks extended.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
21.7–29.5 in
55–75 cm
Wingspan
31.1–33.9 in
79–86 cm
Weight
28.2–63.5 oz
800–1800 g
Other Names
  • Le Grèbe de l'Ouest (French)
  • Achichilique, Acitli (Spanish)

Habitat


Lake/Pond

Western Grebes breed on freshwater lakes and marshes with extensive open water bordered by emergent vegetation. During winter they move to saltwater or brackish bays, estuaries, or sheltered sea coasts and are less frequently found on freshwater lakes or rivers.

Food


Fish

Western Grebes eat mainly fish, catching them by diving in open water. They either spear prey or capture it with a forceps-like motion of the bill, taking larger prey items to the surface before swallowing. They also occasionally consume bottom-dwelling crustaceans and worms (polychaetes).

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–4 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
2.1–2.6 in
5.3–6.6 cm
Egg Width
1.4–1.7 in
3.5–4.2 cm
Incubation Period
24 days
Egg Description
Plain pale bluish, often stained brownish by sodden nest material.
Condition at Hatching
Alert and covered with blackish or silvery down; leaves nest and rides on back of parent after hatching.
Nest Description

The nest looks like a solid mound with a shallow depression for the eggs. It's built of plant materials from the bottom up, on a submerged snag or floating in up to 10 feet of water and anchored to emergent or floating plants. Rarely the nest is built on land using small amounts of surrounding vegetation.

Nest Placement

Floating

The nest is most often built on floating vegetation hidden among emergent plants; Western Grebes occasionally nest in the open and rarely on land. Both sexes build the nest using material brought from underwater, found floating on the surface, or growing near the nest. Western Grebes often nest in colonies, with hundreds or even thousands on one lake.

Behavior


Surface Dive

The Western Grebe, like other grebes, spends almost all its time in water and is very awkward when on land. The legs are so far back on the body that walking is very difficult. Western Grebes are adept swimmers and divers. Courtship happens entirely in the water, including a well-known display known as “rushing,” where two birds turn to one side, lunge forward in synchrony, their bodies completely out of the water, and race across the water side by side with their necks curved gracefully forward.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Populations may be declining, although at least 80,000 Western Grebes breed in North America. Around 1900, Western Grebes were extensively hunted for their silky white breast and belly feathers, which were used in clothing and hats. This aquatic species is also sensitive to pesticides, to other causes of poor water quality, and entanglement in fishing line. Western Grebes nest in colonies and can be flushed by boaters that approach too closely, leaving their nests vulnerable to gulls and other predators. On their coastal wintering grounds they are vulnerable to oil spills and are caught in gill nets. According to NatureServe, their status is of particular concern near the edges of their range, in Kansas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and British Columbia, Canada.

Credits

  • Storer, R. W. and G. L. Nuechterlein. 1992. Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) and Clark's Grebe (Aechmophorus clarkii). In The Birds of North America, No. 26 (A. Poole, P. Stettenheim, and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists' Union.

Range Map Help

Western Grebe Range Map
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