Western Grebes, The Largest Grebes in North America

Western Grebe Swimming

Western Grebe, photographed by Dominic Sherony

A few minutes after hatching, juveniles will climb onto the backs of their parent’s to be carried across the water…

Identifying Them:

Western Grebes are medium-sized birds with black heads, grey wings, and white necks. Females and Males look about the same and are the same size (21-30 inches) with a wingspan of about 31-33 inches.


Western Grebes live in Central through Western America. The birds inhabit freshwater wetlands, marshes, coastal marshes and sometimes lakes, but in the winter they move to saltwater estuaries or bays (rarely in rivers at anytime of the year).


The Grebes are very social (year-round). In winter, the birds travel in large flocks and breed in large colonies. Western Grebes spend most of their time in the water, swimming and diving underwater like cormorants to find food, but also fishing above the surface, thrusting their long bills like spears to hunt fish and other aquatic animals.

Nesting and Nestlings:

Western Grebes are monogamous, and have an interesting courtship display. The display concludes of a complex, synchronized dance called, “rushing,” where the birds stand in an upright position and swim or “rush” across the surface of the water side by side, and at the end, diving underwater. Both partners make the nest together, which is a large, floating depression, made of plant materials like grasses, twigs and mosses, anchored to vegetation.

Females lay about 2-4 bluish-white eggs, which she incubates for about 24 days (3 1/2 weeks). A few minutes after hatching, juveniles will climb onto the backs of their parent’s to be carried across the water and the young will stay on their backs even when they dive. About 10 weeks after hatching, the nestlings learn to fly and no longer need to be cared for by their parents.


During all seasons and in all habitats, Western Grebes eat small fish, crustaceans, insects, worms and sometimes feathers.


This entry was posted in Bird Watching, nonfiction, Uncommon birds, waterbirds and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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