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The Eared Grebe, a small waterbird with a distinct slender bill, is a creature of remarkable allure and mystery. Its breeding adults boast a striking black head and neck, complemented by golden feathers behind the eye and chestnut sides, creating a captivating spectacle for bird enthusiasts and researchers alike.

However, the intrigue does not end there; in nonbreeding adult and immature plumage, the Eared Grebe undergoes a transformation, with its head adorned by a small black cap extending into a cheek smudge, and its neck taking on a grayish hue with a white chin patch.

This transformation, coupled with their behavior and migratory patterns, makes the Eared Grebe a fascinating subject for those seeking to understand the intricate tapestry of avian life.

Key Takeaways

  • Eared Grebes have distinctive breeding plumage traits, including a large, dark head and neck, bright red eyes, golden plumes behind the eyes, and a black body amplified by chestnut sides.
  • Their anatomy and physiology feature a dark cap merging into chestnut flanks, golden feathers, red eyes, a slender, sharp beak, and an elegant swimming and diving ability.
  • During the breeding season, Eared Grebes display iridescent plumage with golden feathers and chestnut sides, making them visually captivating.
  • Eared Grebes engage in complex courtship and mating rituals, including synchronized movements, vocalizations, courtship dances, running across water, and exchanging gifts of aquatic vegetation.

Eared Grebe's Unique Features

distinctive traits of eared grebe

The Eared Grebe stands out due to its distinctive breeding and nonbreeding plumage, intricate courtship behaviors, and specific migratory pattern. Its unique features include a black head and neck, golden feathers behind the eye, and chestnut sides during breeding season, while during nonbreeding season, it sports a small head, black cap extending into a cheek smudge, and a grayish neck with a white chin patch.

The Eared Grebe performs a captivating courtship dance that consists of advertising calls, dives, feather raising, body positions, and running across water with an extended neck. These behaviors make it a fascinating subject for bird enthusiasts who utilize field guide apps, contributing to its high ranking in eBird totals and provisional species counts.

The Eared Grebe migrates to specific inland salty waters, including destinations like Mono Lake in California and the Great Salt Lake in Utah, which further increases interest and admiration for this species.

Distinctive Breeding Plumage Traits

The Eared Grebe exhibits distinctive traits in its breeding plumage. These characteristics include a large, dark head and neck, bright red eyes, and golden plumes behind the eyes. The bird's black body is amplified by chestnut sides during the breeding season.

These attributes make the Eared Grebe easily identifiable in the wild or through resources such as field guide apps and the eBird database. The bird's distinctive breeding plumage traits showcase the intricate beauty of avian adaptations, attracting both birdwatchers and researchers.

Anatomy and physiology

study of body structure

The study of the Eared Grebe's anatomy and physiology reveals its extraordinary adaptations for a life intimately tied with water-based environments. This bird, during its breeding phase, exhibits a distinctive look, characterized by a dark cap merging into chestnut flanks, embellished with golden feathers. The bird's distinguishing features include red eyes and a slender, sharp beak, contributing to their elegant appearance. Nonbreeding adults and immature birds have a peaked head, a gray tint on their cheeks, and a unique white chin, enhancing their charm.

These physical traits, paired with their elegant swimming and diving skills, make the Eared Grebe an appealing topic for birdwatchers and nature lovers. Observations of these charming birds in their natural surroundings or via a field guide app can inspire a sense of marvel and admiration for their complex anatomy and physiology.

Iridescent Breeding Plumage Traits

colorful feathers for breeding

The Eared Grebe's breeding plumage traits, including iridescent golden feathers and chestnut sides, result in a stunning visual allure. This bird, mainly black in breeding adults, features golden plumes on its cheeks and a red eye.

The elegance of the Eared Grebe during the breeding season is enhanced by the peaked head, dark cheeks, chestnut flanks, and thin pointed bill. These traits contribute to the bird's striking appearance, making the Eared Grebe a visually captivating spectacle during the breeding season.

Courtship and Mating Rituals

animal courtship behaviors detailed

Eared Grebes engage in courtship and mating rituals through a series of synchronized movements and vocalizations, showcasing impressive agility and coordination. These rituals involve a complex courtship dance that features advertising calls, dives, feather raising, and specific body positions.

One noteworthy behavior is their ability to run across water with their necks extended. In a unique display of affection, male and female grebes exchange gifts of aquatic vegetation, which serves to strengthen their bond.

Their rituals are finely tuned to their breeding process and are conducted in their natural habitats of marshy ponds and lakes. The Eared Grebes' distinctive chestnut flanks and peaked crown become more prominent during these displays, adding to the spectacle of their mating season.

Seasonal Movement Patterns

birds migration during seasons

Eared Grebes' seasonal movements follow a distinct pattern. They migrate to inland salty waters at particular times of the year. They travel to Mono Lake in California or the Great Salt Lake in Utah during fall. Springtime sees them convening at the Salton Sea and the Great Salt Lake.

These birds can be seen in large groups during migration and winter, showing a preference for saltwater habitats. Their migration mainly happens at night. They hold the record for the longest flightless period among birds that can fly.

At Mono Lake or the Great Salt Lake, they increase their weight twofold by eating brine shrimp and alkali flies. This pattern of movement demonstrates Eared Grebes' exceptional ability to adapt to various environments and their unique survival strategies throughout the year.

Breeding Vocalization Sounds Underwater Dance

Eared Grebes, small waterbirds, exhibit a fascinating breeding ritual where their underwater dance and breeding vocalization sounds take center stage. This ritual, a spectacle, involves the male Eared Grebe emitting a series of melodious calls. Simultaneously, both partners indulge in a synchronized dance, their movements intricate and graceful beneath the water's surface.

This underwater dance and the breeding vocalization sounds serve to communicate their intentions and synchronize their movements, revealing the complexity of their courtship rituals. Observers find this display remarkable, a testament to the Eared Grebes' unique breeding behavior.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Eared Grebes Flightless?

The primary reason Eared Grebes are flightless stems from their molting process. This process involves the loss and regrowth of flight feathers, a transformation that significantly alters their muscle and organ size. Consequently, this change renders Eared Grebes temporarily flightless. This state of being flightless plays a critical role in their survival strategy during nocturnal migrations.

What Is the Difference Between Horned Grebe and Eared Grebe?

The distinction between the Horned Grebe and the Eared Grebe lies primarily in their physical characteristics. The Eared Grebe is characterized by a small head, a black cap that extends into a cheek smudge, and a set of unique features in breeding adults. On the other hand, the Horned Grebe presents a clear separation between the cap and cheek, a distinct bill tip, and a different overall look.

Do Eared Grebes Fly?

Eared Grebes, despite experiencing the longest flightless period among flying birds, indeed have the capability to fly. This ability is utilized during their nocturnal migration to inland salty waters at specific times of the year. The migration process involves significant transformations in their muscle and organ size.

Why Are Eared Grebes Eyes Red?

Eared Grebes possess red eyes due to the presence of carotenoid pigments, which they acquire from their diet of aquatic invertebrates. These pigmented eyes function as visual cues during periods of courtship and breeding, conveying the bird's health status and fitness to potential partners.

What Are the Differences Between an Eared Grebe and an Evening Grosbeak?

The eared grebe and evening grosbeak have significant differences in their behavior and habitat. The eared grebe prefers shallow lakes and marshes for breeding, whereas the evening grosbeak behavior and habitat include coniferous and mixed forests. These distinctions make each bird unique in its own right.


In conclusion, the Eared Grebe is a fascinating waterbird with unique breeding plumage traits, distinctive vocalization sounds, and seasonal movement patterns.

Their iridescent feathers and courtship rituals make them a sight to behold, and their ability to migrate to inland salty waters during specific times of the year is a remarkable feat.

Overall, the Eared Grebe's behavior, appearance, and habitat preferences make it a truly remarkable species to observe in the wild.