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Red-necked Grebe

Named after their rusty necks, these water birds can be spotted in North America and Eurasia.

Red-necked Grebes are known for the wide variety of elaborate courtship displays they participate in, although these are not as common on the breeding grounds as one might expect given that many pairs have formed prior to reaching breeding areas. Storms can produce waves which destroy many Red-necked Grebe nests and eggs.

Red-necked Grebes are very territorial, not only against other Red-necked Grebes but also against other water birds. A variety of chases and attacks are used, including an underwater attack in which the grebe swims underneath the intruder and jabs its underside with its bill.

When in breeding plumage it is not easily confused with other species. Winter plumage somewhat resembles Earned or Horned Grebe but bill is much larger.

Sexes are similar.

Description of the Red-necked Grebe


The Red-necked Grebe is a large grebe with a yellowish bill, dark gray upperparts, and a white throat and cheeks. The reddish neck and breast in breeding plumage give it its name.

Length: 18 in.  Wingspan: 24 in.

Red-necked Grebe

Photograph © Alan Wilson.


Sexes similar.

Seasonal change in appearance

Breast and neck become whitish in the winter.


Juveniles have black and white stripes on the face.


Lakes, ponds, and saltwater bays.

Red-necked Grebe

Photograph © Glenn Bartley.


Insects and fish, as well as other aquatic life.


Forages from the surface or by diving.

Young will ride on the back of the adults.


Breeds from Alaska to eastern Canada and in parts of the northern U.S. Winters along the east and west coasts. Also occurs in Europe and Asia.

Fun Facts

Red-necked Grebes are very aggressive when on territory during the breeding season, actively chasing away potential rivals.

Great Horned Owls and mink prey on incubating adults.


“Crick-crick” calls and loud rattling or raspy notes are given on the breeding grounds.


Similar Species

  • Not easily confused with other species when in breeding plumage.Faint resemblence to Clark’s and Western Grebes in winter plumage, both have thinner bills, are larger and have red eyes.


The nest is a floating platform of plant materials.

Eggs: 4 to 5.
Color: Bluish-white.

Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 20-23 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) shortly after hatching but remain with the adults for some time.



Red-necked Grebe pair displaying

Courtship display.  Black crown, black stripe on back of neck extends down to the dark back.  White cheek and chin.  Red throat and foreneck. Photograph © Elaine Wilson.

Red-necked Grebe

Note the bill color. The amount of yellow on the bill is variable. Typically more yellow on the lower mandible, especially in non-breeding birds. Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

Red-necked Grebe crest up

Crest up in courtship display. Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

Red-necked Grebe winter plumage

The breast and neck become whitish in the winter. There is less black and more yellow on the bill in non-breeding plumage. Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

Red-necked Grebe winter plumage

The bill is large and heavy. Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

Red-necked Grebe winter plumage

The amount of white on the neck varies. First winter birds have less white on the side of the head while adults will show more white extending to the back of the head and behind the eye. Compare this bird to the one above. Photograph © Glenn Bartley.

Red-necked Grebe with chick on the back

Home-sweet-home. Photograph © Alan Wilson.

Red-necked Grebe family

Dinner time.  Photograph © Elaine Wilson.

Red-necked Grebe at nest

Typical with grebes, legs are well back on the body, great for swimming.  Photograph © Alan Wilson.

Red-necked Grebe with young

Juveniles have black and white stripes on the face even when older than this alien-looking baby grebe. Photograph © Alan Wilson.

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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