The most numerous grebe species in the world, the Eared Grebe has a somewhat scattered and variable breeding distribution from one year to the next, though it has predictable post-breeding movements. These Eared Grebe migrations take place at night.
When gorging on brine shrimp in the fall, the Eared Grebe’s wing muscles diminish to the point where they can’t fly, and their digestive organs increase to help take on the abundant food. This process reverses in time for the next migration.
The Eared Grebe is a small swimming and diving bird with a compact body, medium length neck, somewhat large head, and a very thin, pointed bill.
Breeding birds have a blackish head with a large, bold, golden yellow patch fanning out behind each eye, a black neck and upperparts, and reddish flanks. Note the size and shape of the bill. Eared Grebes cab be very colorful. Sexes are similar in appearance. Photograph by Alan Wilson.
Wet feather day. Photograph by Alan Wilson.
Winter birds have a black cap, black or dusky cheeks, mostly dark or dusky foreneck and dark gray hindheck, and grayish upperparts with whitish flanks. First fall birds similar to winter plumage of adults but may show rust color on the neck. Photograph by Alan Wilson.
Note red eye, high forehead, and rounded head. This bird seems to show a white spot in front of the eye, a feature on some winter-plumaged Horned Grebes but usually absent from Eared Grebes. Photograph by Alan Wilson.
An aggressive stance, not sure who would want to mess with that fine, pointed bill. Photograph by Alan Wilson.
The amount of white on the neck varies, some will have more white, some less. Photograph by Alan Wilson.
Eared vs Horned Grebe
The following image shows both Eared and Horned Grebe in winter plumage. Confusing, huh? The Horned Grebe is on the left, and the Eared Grebe is on the right.
The Eared Grebe in this photo has much less white on the face and neck than the bird pictured above. The slight upward curve to the bottom of the bill is more obvious in this photograph. The bill is thinner than the Horned Grebe. In this photograph it is also easy to see the difference in head shape, the Eared Grebe has much more of a peaked head, compared to the flat top the Horned Grebe is sporting.
Sam is the founder of Birdzilla.com. He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.