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Eared Grebe

Known for their bright red eyes and vibrant plumage, these water birds are common across most of North America and Europe.

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.


Description of the Eared Grebe


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.  Length: 13 in.  Wingspan: 16 in.

Eared Grebe

Photograph © Alan Wilson.


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance

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.


Juveniles resemble winter adults.


Eared Grebes breed on lakes and ponds with emergent vegetation, and winter lakes and salt bays in the southern and western U.S.  They are less coastal than the Horned Grebe.


Eared Grebes dive to capture aquatic prey, primarily insects and crustaceans.


Eared Grebes have legs set far back on their bodies, a position that is good for swimming but poor for walking on land.  To take flight they must have a running start, paddling furiously through the water while flapping their wings. They are usually seen swimming on the surface, and frequently diving in search of prey.


Eared Grebes breed across parts of western Canada and the western U.S. They winter primarily along the Pacific Coast and in inland waters of the southwestern and south central U.S. They are relatively rare in the eastern U.S. Horned Grebes may be stable, although their population is not well measured.

More information:

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History


Fun Facts

A Eared Grebe courtship display involves a pair racing vertically across the water with wings partly spread open.

Nearly the entire population of Eared Grebes makes a post-breeding migration to a hypersaline lake such as Great Salt Lake, Mono Lake, or the Salton Sea to feed on brine shrimp.

Young Eared Grebes often ride on their swimming parents’ backs.


The Eared Grebe’s song is a squeaky whistle, recalling that of the Sora.  Calls include a series of shrill cries.


Similar Species

Horned Grebe
Horned Grebes have thicker bills, a reddish neck in summer or a whitish foreneck in winter, and white cheeks in winter.



The nest is a floating pile of plant material placed in shallow water.

Number: Usually lay 3-5 eggs.
Color: Whitish and often stained by nest material.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 21 days, and leave the nest shortly after hatching, though they continue to associate with the adults for several weeks.


Bent Life History of the Eared Grebe

The Bent life history will be added soon.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of 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.

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