Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

The Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), also known as the Slavonian Grebe, can be found both in North America and Eurasia and it is considered to be widespread and abundant. However, there is a place in Canada known as the Iles-de-la-Madeleine where a small population of Horned Grebe has been breeding since at least 1989. Their numbers remain small and have ranged from between six to fourteen individuals, yet still this small cluster of birds continues to exist. Because the population is so small and fragile, it is carefully monitored by the Canadian Wildlife Service yet its origin and continued existence remains a mystery to most.

Generally speaking, the Horned Grebe is 31-38 cm in length with a 55-64 cm wingspan. Both sexes are similar in shape, size and color with a small, stocky body and a short, thin bill. The bill is normally black in color while the head is blocky in shape with a ‘peak’ at the back. The feet are set quite far back and it has white secondaries which are visible in flight. The adult normally has a black cap, hindneck and back, while its flanks, belly and foreneck are white in colour. However, during breeding season most birds come to have a golden strip which extends from the eye to the back of the head. This is combined with a reddish neck and flanks and a dark back with a white belly. The bird’s ‘horns’ are actually small little yellowish patches of feathers which can be found behind the birds eyes. The Horned Grebe can raise and lower these at will giving the bird the appearance of having ‘horns’.

The Horned Grebe generally nests near permanent but shallow ponds with good vegetation and open water. Once they have hatched, Horned Grebe chicks often ride on the backs of their parents as they swim about – in fact they may even go underwater with them during dives. Most find it interesting to note that the Horned Grebe usually eats some of its own feathers – so many, in fact that they usually form a plug in the birds stomach. This plug may work to filter potentially harmful items – such as fish bones – out of food and keep them in the stomach until they have been properly digested. This ‘plug’ is a normal part of life for the bird and adult Horned Grebes may even feed their young feathers in order to help them develop a plug.