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Horned Grebe


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Familiar to most North American birders in its black-and-white winter plumage, the Horned Grebe is more striking in its red-and-black breeding feathers. Its "horns" are yellowish patches of feathers behind its eyes that it can raise and lower at will.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
12.2–15 in
31–38 cm
21.7–25.2 in
55–64 cm
10.6–20.1 oz
300–570 g
Other Names
  • Slavonian Grebe
  • Grèbe cornu, Grèbe esclavon (French)
  • Zambullidor cornudo, Zampullin cuellirrojo, Zampullin orejudo, Noveleta cuellirroja (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Like most grebes, the small chicks of the Horned Grebe frequently ride on the backs of their swimming parents. The young ride between the wings on the parent's back, and may even go underwater with them during dives.
  • The Horned Grebe regularly eats some of its own feathers, enough that its stomach usually contains a matted plug of them. This plug may function as a filter or may hold fish bones in the stomach until they can be digested. The parents even feed feathers to their chicks to get the plug started early.
  • A sleeping or resting Horned Grebe puts its neck on its back with its head off to one side and facing forward. It keeps one foot tucked up under a wing and uses the other one to maneuver in the water. Having one foot up under a wing makes it float with one "high" side and one "low" side.
  • The oldest recorded Horned Grebe was at least 5 years, 11 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in the Northwest Territories in 2007, the same place where it had been banded in 2002.



Breeds on small to moderate-sized, shallow freshwater ponds and marshes. Winters along coasts and on large bodies of water.



Aquatic insects, fish, crustaceans, and other small aquatic animals.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–8 eggs
Egg Description
White to brownish or bluish green.
Condition at Hatching
Downy and active; can swim and dive within one day, but usually stay on nest platform.
Nest Description

An open bowl in a platform of floating vegetation or on a rock.

Nest Placement



Surface Dive

Dives underwater for food, in open water and among aquatic vegetation. Picks insects off water surface.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Horned Grebe are common, but populations appear to have experienced declines between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. There is little information on absolute population size, but evidence suggests that this grebe's breeding range is contracting. The species rates a 13 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Horned Grebe is on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List, which includes bird species that are most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats.


Range Map Help

Horned Grebe Range Map
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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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