Hundreds of thousands of Eared Grebes gather at Mono Lake in northern California before continuing their fall migration. Later in September many of these birds can be found at the Salton Sea in southern California.
Eared GrebePodiceps nigricollis
A common, sociable grebe of freshwater lakes in the West. While some grebes skulk in marshes, Eared Grebe is generally seen swimming and diving on open water. Seldom seen in flight except during migration. Gregarious at all seasons; nests in dense colonies, sometimes congregates in huge numbers on lakes during migration and winter. Probably as an adaptation to life in the arid West, it is flexible in distribution, quickly taking advantage of manmade or temporary new bodies of water.
Field MarksBreeding: Crested black head, golden ear tufts, thin black neck (Horned Grebe has chestnut neck).
Winter: Similar to Horned Grebe, but neck thinner; bill slightly tilted; cap ill defined. The gray cheek sets off the white throat, white ear patch. The rump is raised well above the water.
Size12-14" (30-35 cm)
VoiceOn nesting ponds, a froglike poo-eep or krreep.
RangeEurasia, Africa, western North America.
MigrationBegins earlier in fall than in Horned Grebe. Generally migrates at night. Some birds migrate southeast from breeding range to winter near Gulf Coast.
HabitatPrairie lakes, ponds; in winter, open lakes, salt bays. Favored nesting areas are lakes or large ponds with extensive marshy borders. Opportunistic, it may quickly occupy new or temporary habitats. During migration and winter, mainly on large freshwater or alkaline lakes. Also on coastal bays, but seen less often on ocean than Horned Grebe.
FeedingDiet: Mostly insects and crustaceans. Feeds on insects (such as aquatic beetles, dragonfly larvae, flies, mayflies), crustaceans, mollusks, tadpoles, a few small fish. During autumn stopover on large alkaline lakes, may feed mainly on brine shrimp. Young are fed mainly insects. Like other grebes, sometimes eats feathers and feeds them to its young.
Behavior: Forages by diving and swimming underwater, propelled by feet. Also takes many insects and other items from surface of water.
NestingCourtship displays are complex. Male and female may swim side by side while turning heads and calling loudly; also face each other while rearing up out of water and turning heads from side to side; at climax of display, pair may rear up to vertical position and rush across surface of water side by side.
Nest: Built by both sexes, a floating platform of weeds, anchored to standing vegetation in shallow water.
Eggs: Usually 3-5, rarely 1-6. Whitish at first, becoming nest-stained brown. Incubation (by both sexes) about 21 days.
Young: Leave nest after last egg hatches, are tended and fed by both parents. Adults may separate, each taking part of brood. Young may ride on parents' backs when small. May be independent by 21 days after hatching; age at first flight not well known. 1 brood per year, rarely 2.
ConservationPopulations generally stable, but vulnerable because large numbers depend on just a few major lakes at some seasons (such as Great Salt Lake, Mono Lake, Salton Sea).