Species Profile: Pied-billed Grebe

Each week I am going to add a species profile on a bird that is relevant at the time of the posting both geographically (focused in Arkansas) and seasonally.  This week I have chosen the Pied-billed Grebe.

Basic info

  • Pied-billed Grebes the order of birds called Podicipediformes which contains only grebes (22 species worldwide) and is a somewhat small order.  These are related to loons (Gaviiformes).
  • Pied-bills are almost entirely aquatic and eat fish or aquatic prey.  They don’t fly often and aren’t skilled at walking at all because their legs are placed so far back on their body (which aids in their diving and swimming).
  • These birds breeds in all of the lower 48 but spends its winter in the southern 2/3 of the country.
  • Gives a yodel like song (similar to loons).  Only really heard during breeding season.
  • It is 11-15 inches in length.
  • Since it likes to dive for food it is usually found in deeper, calmer water.
  • Builds a floating raft of a nest with 3-10 eggs in a clutch.  The chicks can swim within a day of hatching but typically stay near the nest or parent.
  • These birds are fairly common and have no conservation concerns.

Personal Experience

I rarely see Pied-billed Grebes in the breeding season in Arkansas and have never heard their yodeling call.  They, however, are very common in the winter in Arkansas.  They are often mistaken for ducks but have thick bills and are smaller and have different proportions.  As their name suggests they sometimes have a black line through their bill.  They vary in coloration throughout the seasons but are usually some shade of brown with lighter areas around the neck.  I usually see them on lakes and rivers, where the water is fairly deep, but I will occasionally see them in shallower bodies of water.  They don’t fly to escape threats, they dive.  Whenever I scare one and it dives, I’m always amazed at how much distance it covers underwater when I see it pop up again.  They are fairly social birds.  You will normally see them with a couple others or with Coots, Ducks, and/or other grebes (Horned or Eared).  They have two types of submersion: diving and sinking.  When they dive they lunge into the water and they do this when foraging or threatened.  They also sink.  They don’t move their body but just slowly submerge.  I don’t see the sinking very often, probably because its very subtle.  Even though Pied-billed Grebes are here year round, they are kind of the harbingers of winter.  When you start seeing these grebes in numbers you will know more winter birds are to follow.

These birds don’t let me get too close so I don’t have any good photos.  The one below is not mine.

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