Eared Grebe Life History

Habitat

Habitat Lakes and Ponds

Eared Grebes breed in shallow lakes and ponds that typically lack fish. During migration in North America, they gather in large groups in saline waters in the Salton Sea, Great Salt Lake, and Mono Lake. They spend the winter near islands in the Gulf of California, in salt ponds, saline lakes, and along ocean coastlines in shallow water.

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Food

Food Aquatic invertebrates

Eared Grebes feed on aquatic invertebrates, especially brine shrimp and brine flies along with the occasional small fish, mollusk, or amphibian. They capture prey by diving underwater, pecking at the surface, or dipping their head just under the surface of the water.

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Floating

Eared Grebes typically nest on lakes and wetlands that are not bordered by trees. Within these lakes and wetlands, males and females select a nest site in shallow waters with cattail, sedges, or rushes.

Nest Description

Males and females build a floating platform with a shallow bowl of aquatic plants that they attach to reeds or other emergent vegetation. The nest is set on a foundation of bent-over reeds with vegetation that the pair has retrieved from the bottom of the lake.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:1-8 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:1.7-1.8 in (4.3-4.6 cm)
Egg Width:1.1-1.2 in (2.9-3.1 cm)
Incubation Period:20-23 days
Egg Description:

Whitish.

Condition at Hatching:Downy and capable of climbing, swimming, and eating within an hour after hatching.
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Behavior

Behavior Surface Dive

These social birds paddle around lakes and ponds foraging for aquatic invertebrates. They breed in colonies and flock by the hundreds to thousands during migration and on the wintering grounds. Eared Grebes are excellent swimmers and divers, but they are less adept at walking on land; with feet located toward the rear of the body walking on land is a challenge. Their flight is rather labored with head and neck outstretched and feet trailing behind. Eared Grebes, like other grebes, have elaborate courtship dances. The dance starts with a hiccupping advertising call and progresses into a series of dives, feather raising, exaggerated body positions, and "running" across the water with neck extended. Pairs bow to each other and fluff up their tail feathers before suddenly diving and then rising up almost completely up out of the water into what scientists call a “penguin posture.” Pairs sometimes "run" across the water together, toward another Eared Grebe that has interrupted the pair's courtship. These dances cement a monogamous bond for the breeding season.

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Conservation

Conservation Low Concern

Eared Grebes are common and their populations were stable between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 2.7 million. The species rates a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means it is not on the Partners in Flight Watch List and is a species of low conservation concern. Like other waterbirds, draining of wetlands and agricultural conversion reduce the amount of available habitat. Mass die-offs of Eared Grebes have happened in the past. In 1992 around 150,000 individuals died in the Salton Sea possibly due to disease. In 2011, more than 1,500 grebes died when they landed in a Walmart parking lot in Utah. It’s thought that stormy weather triggered the migrating birds to land, and the well-lit asphalt parking lot looked like a lake to them. In all, some 3,000 Eared Grebes crash-landed, but luckily many were rescued and released to a nearby lake.

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Credits

Cullen, S. A., Joseph R. Jehl Jr. and Gary L. Nuechterlein. 1999. Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love (2017). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2017.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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