Horned Grebes, Podiceps auritus
Horned Grebes are found in freshwater habitats such as lakes, ponds, marshes, and slow-flowing rivers. During the breeding season, they prefer shallow lakes and wetlands with abundant emergent vegetation. They breed in northern parts of North America and Eurasia. In winter, they migrate to coastal areas, estuaries, and large inland lakes, sometimes venturing as far south as Mexico and the southern United States, the coasts of the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and along the coasts of China, Korea and Japan.
Horned Grebes have distinctive breeding plumage, including a chestnut-colored neck, a black head with golden “horns” (tufts of feathers), a white cheek patch and bright red eyes, which provide a striking contrast against their plumage.
Horned Grebes are skilled divers and hunters. They feed primarily on small fish, crustaceans, insects, and aquatic invertebrates. They swim underwater, using their feet and wings for propulsion, and use their sharp bill to catch and consume their prey. They can dive to considerable depths in search of food, sometimes reaching up to 60 feet (18 meters) below the surface.
Horned Grebes form breeding pairs during the spring season. During courtship displays, they perform elaborate rituals such as “rushing” across the water’s surface, head shaking, and calling.
They construct their nests partially submerged in shallow water or floating on vegetation, providing protection from land-based predators. The nest is a platform of plant material, including reeds, grasses, and aquatic vegetation.
The female Horned Grebe typically lays a clutch of 3 to 5 eggs, which are pale green or blue-green in color. Incubation is performed by both parents and lasts for about 21 to 23 days. After hatching, the parents carry the young on their backs, providing protection and warmth. The young grebes are able to swim and feed themselves shortly after hatching.
Both the male and female Horned Grebes actively participate in raising their young. They provide food for the chicks by capturing small fish, insects, and invertebrates. The parents may regurgitate partially digested food for the chicks to consume. The young grebes learn to forage and dive by observing and imitating their parents.
Horned Grebe chicks fledge, or acquire their flight feathers, at around 45 to 50 days after hatching. Once they fledge, they become independent and capable of sustained flight.
During winter, Horned Grebes migrate to coastal areas and large bodies of water that remain ice-free, where they form loose flocks and search for food in open water habitats.