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Podicipedidae

Grebe
White-tufted Grebe Rollandia rolland ©James Lowen Website

The Podicipediformes order is a widely distributed order of freshwater diving birds, some of which visit the sea when migrating and in winter. This order contains only a single family, the Podicipedidae.

They are small to medium-large in size, have lobed toes, and are excellent swimmers and divers. Although they can run for a short distance, they are prone to falling over, since they have their feet placed far back on the body.

Grebes have narrow wings, and some species are reluctant to fly; indeed, two South American species are completely flightless. They respond to danger by diving rather than flying, and are in any case much less wary than ducks. Extant species range in size from the Least Grebe, at 120 grams and 23.5cm to the Great Grebe, at 1.7kg and 71cm.

The North American and Eurasian species are all, of necessity, migratory over much or all of their ranges, and those species that winter at sea are also seen regularly in flight. Even the small freshwater Pied-billed Grebe of North America has occurred as a transatlantic vagrant to Europe on more than 30 occasions.

Bills vary from short and thick to long and pointed, depending on the diet, which ranges from fish to freshwater insects and crustaceans. The feet are always large, with broad lobes on the toes and small webs connecting the front three toes. The hind toe also has a small lobe. Recent experimental work has shown that these lobes work like the hydrofoil blades of a propeller.

Grebes have unusual plumage. It is dense and waterproof, and on the underside the feathers are at right-angles to the skin, sticking straight out to begin with and curling at the tip. By pressing their feathers against the body, grebes can adjust their buoyancy. Often, they swim low in the water with just the head and neck exposed.

In the non-breeding season, grebes are plain-coloured in dark browns and whites. However, most have ornate and distinctive breeding plumages, often developing chestnut markings on the head area, and perform elaborate display rituals. The young, particularly those of the Podiceps genus, are often striped and retain some of their juvenile plumage even after reaching full size. In the breeding season, they mate at freshwater lakes and ponds, but some species spend their non-breeding season along seacoasts.

When preening, grebes eat their own feathers, and feed them to their young. The function of this behaviour is uncertain but it is believed to assist with pellet formation, and to reduce their vulnerability to gastric parasites.

GThey make floating nests of plant material concealed among reeds on the surface of the water. The young are precocial, and able to swim from birth.

The IOC considered there to be 20 extant species in this family, which are:

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Tricolored Grebe Tachybaptus tricolor
Australasian Grebe Tachybaptus novaehollandiae
Madagascan Grebe Tachybaptus pelzelnii
Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps

White-tufted Grebe Rollandia rolland
Titicaca Grebe Rollandia microptera

Hoary-headed Grebe Poliocephalus poliocephalus
New Zealand Grebe Poliocephalus rufopectus

Great Grebe Podiceps major
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
Silvery Grebe Podiceps occipitalis
Junin Grebe Podiceps taczanowskii
Hooded Grebe Podiceps gallardoi

Western Grebe Aechmophorus occidentalis
Clark's Grebe Aechmophorus clarkii

Family Links

Grebes Podicipedidae

Cornell Family Account

Annotated species list

Grebes Podicipedidae

HBW Family Account

Grebes Podicipedidae

BTO Family Account

The grebes are aquatic duck-like birds, with representatives on all continents except Antarctica. The fossil record indicates grebes have been around for 70 million years and, in that time they have evolved into proficient underwater hunters.

Grebes Podicipedidae

Species Account

A grebe (/ˈɡriːb/) is a member of the order Podicipediformes and the only type of bird associated with this order.

Grebes Podicipedidae

Family Account

The grebes are an ancient family going back 80 million years, well-represented in the fossil record, and not closely related to any other birds…

Species Links

Junin Grebe podiceps taczanowskii

Species Account

The Junín grebe, Junin flightless grebe or puna grebe (Podiceps taczanowskii) is a grebe found only on Lake Junin in the highlands of Junin, west-central Peru.

Junin Grebe podiceps taczanowskii

BirdLife Species Account

Junin Grebe podiceps taczanowskii

IUCN Species Status

Junin Grebe podiceps taczanowskii

Cornell Species Account

Confined to Lake Junín in the highlands of west-central Peru, this flightless grebe is now ranked as Critically Endangered by BirdLife International. It is a slim, long-necked grebe with a blackish hind crown, completely dark upperparts, and white underparts mottled dusky on the sides; the bill is rather slender looking.

Junin Grebe podiceps taczanowskii

HBW Species Account

Junin Grebe podiceps taczanowskii

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps

Cornell Species Account

Part bird, part submarine, the Pied-billed Grebe is common across much of North America.

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps

Species Account

The pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) is a species of the grebe family of water birds.

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps

BirdLife Species Account

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps

IUCN Species Status

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps

HBW Species Account

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena

Species Account

The Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena) is a migratory aquatic bird found in the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Its wintering habitat is largely restricted to calm waters just beyond the waves around ocean coasts, although some birds may winter on large lakes. Grebes prefer shallow bodies of fresh water such as lakes, marshes or fish-ponds as breeding sites….

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena

RSPB Species Account

Like all grebes it is an expert swimmer and diver. In winter plumage it is similar to a great crested grebe but has has a thicker neck, and a stout dark bill with a yellow base.

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena

Cornell Species Account

The Red-necked Grebe breeds on small inland lakes in Canada and Alaska, and winters along both coasts of North America.

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena

BirdLife Species Account

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena

HBW Species Account

Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 20

Useful Reading

Flight Identification of European Seabirds

by Anders Blomdahl, Bertil Breife & Niklas Holmstrom from Christopher Helm April 2003 Price ?35. See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 0713660201

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Grebes of the World

by Andre Konter from Lynx Edicions 2001

ISBN: 8487334334

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Grebes of the World

by Malcolm Ogilvie, illustrated by Chris Rose published by Bruce Coleman ?35 2003 See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 1872842038

Buy this book from NHBS.com

The Grebes

by Jon Fjeldsa [Illustrated by the author] OUP 2004

ISBN: 0198500645

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Working Bibliography of Grebes of the World with Summaries of Current Taxonomy and of Distributional Status

by JJ Vlug and J Fjeldsa - 210 pages, line drawings. Wetlands International 1990

ISBN: 8787519313

Buy this book from NHBS.com