HORNED GREBE – (Podiceps auritus)
The Horned Grebe – also called Slavonian Grebe – is a waterbird of a relatively small size, at around 35 cm (14 in.) long. Breeding adults have a reddish brown neck, upper breast and sides. The crown and back are black, as well as their long cheek feathers, which give the birds a large head appearance. The under parts are whitish. The short, pointed bill and lobed feet are black, and the eyes are red. In non-breeding adults, the head is black and the cheeks white with no ‘horn’ feathers, and the upper parts are dark grey. The under parts are light grey, and the bill is also grey. When flying the white secondaries are visible. Both sexes are very similar.
The Latin genus name ‘Podiceps’ means ‘rump’ and ‘foot’, and refers to the placement of the birds’ feet near the rump. The species name ‘auritus’ comes from ‘ear’, and refers to the pale yellow tufts of feathers behind the eye that the bird can raise into ‘horns’, hence the English adjective in that species name. The English name ‘Grebe’ might come from a Breton word that means ‘crest’.
The habitat of this grebe during the breeding season includes ponds and marshlands. It prefers natural habitats to man-made reservoirs or ponds. During the winter it will be found at large bodies of water along the coasts. The horned grebe feeds on small fish and aquatic insects and other invertebrates, that it catches by diving and eats while under water.
Horned grebes build their nests in a well-sheltered location near water. They carry their chicks on their backs when on the water, even diving with them on their backs. How can the chicks stay in that position under water?
The horned grebe does not breed on PEI, and its occurrence on the island varies from uncommon to accidental, depending on the seasons. There were a few sightings in the fall of 2005 in various locations across the island. Its breeding range covers the western part of Canada, especially the Prairies.
Conservation: the horned grebe is considered as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN, and as of ‘special concern’ by COSEWIC. One factor for its population decline is habitat loss from wetland drainage for agriculture and development, also from droughts. Other threats include being caught in fishing nets, increasing spread of predators, competition from other species, and water pollution.