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Western Grebe

These birds are known for their spectacular courtship displays, which involve synchronized swimming and head-bobbing.

Once considered the same species as Clark’s Grebe but now classified separately, the boldly patterned, black and white Western Grebe breeds over a large portion of western North America but winters primarily along the West Coast. Migratory movements occur at night, and Western Grebes usually travel in flocks.

Western Grebes are capable divers and propel themselves underwater with their feet. Most dives last about half a minute. Weather is one major threat to Western Grebes, and can cause significant destruction of nests through storm generated wave action. Birds can also be frozen into lakes when surface water freezes overnight.

Western Grebe Western Grebe

Description of the Western Grebe


Western Grebe

The Western Grebe has black upperparts, hindneck, and crown, and white underparts. It has a pointed, greenish-yellow bill and red eyes. The eyes are usually enclosed by a black area of feathers extending down from the crown and forehead.



Sexes are similar.

Western Grebe

Western Grebe


Seasonal change in appearance

Seasonal changes are small.  Winter birds can have a pale area around the eye.


Juveniles have neck and back feathers edged with gray.


Marshes with emergent vegetation and ocean bays.


Primarily fish.


Forages by diving.


Breeds across much of the western U.S. and south-central Canada and winters along the West Coast and in the southwestern U.S.

Fun Facts

When the chicks are getting older and close to fledging age, the parent may spilt the brood between them.

Where Clark’s and Western Grebes breed in the same area, males of the two species are aggressive towards one another


The call is made up of two notes sounding like “crick-creek”.

Similar Species

  • Clark’s Grebes have bills that are more orange, and usually have a white area immediately around the eye.


The nest is a floating pile of plant material.

Eggs: 2-4.
Color: Pale bluish-white.
Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 24 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) shortly after hatching to climb onto the back of a parent.

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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