Pied-billed Grebe

In the New World, a Pied-billed Grebe is present in a lot of places. North America’s temperate regions are especially familiar with this bird species. They aren’t exactly a sociable bunch. If you compare them to other Grebes, the contrast is even more apparent. They seldom try to form a flock. Around marshy pond areas, you might even see a single, lonely one. 

If they are disturbed by any elements in their immediate environment, or they feel suspicious of their surroundings, they do this slow, downward sinking of their body. Ultimately, only the top of their head can be visible over the water surface. They don’t bother flying much unless it is migration time. Breeding season, they become even more secretive over their activities. They hide in the marshes and make these cooing, whining noises. 

Today, we’ll learn about: 

  •  Pied-billed Grebe color patterns, songs, and size
  •  Pied-billed Grebe behavior, habitat, and diet
  •  Pied-billed Grebe life cycle, nesting, and migration range


Pied-billed Grebes Color Pattern

During the breeding season, the most obvious color pattern on the body of Pied-billed Grebes is its white bill. In the middle of the white bill, there is this dark stripe of black.  The black color is also present on the face, on top of the bill, and under the bill area. They have black eyes with a white eye ring. 

For the most part, Grebes are brown in color. The shade of brown is so deep that it appears to take on the black shade. The upperparts are darker compared to the belly and chest area. 

Non-breeding adult Pied-billed Grebes have a yellowish-brown bill. You don’t notice the black stripe present on the bill anymore. The nape and neck also are not black anymore, turning into a chocolate brown color. Overall, the birds lose the intensity of the color during the breeding season, and the under-tail even turns white. They also lose the mass of feathers surrounding their body. 

As for juvenile Pied-billed Grebes, while most of the body is the same color, the bill turns towards the orange shade. On their face, there are prominent white and black stripes. 

Description And Identification

Locating where Pied-billed Grebes are resting would never be a problem. They are too widespread such that you might not have access to one area where they visit. Once you find them, identifying them isn’t a problem here. 

The primary issue is that despite having the location, season and identification points down pat, you might still not be able to see the Grebes if you are not careful. This is because of the bird species’ amazing talent of hiding underwater half the time. Since they swim underwater a lot and can do so for a long period of time, it becomes impossible for you to see them until they raise their face upward from the water. From time to time, they just let out parts of their face from under the water. 

If your luck is good enough and you have all the birding gear, you might have the chance to observe them. Then, you only need to follow the color patterns on their body based on the season. If it is the breeding season, they will have a white bill with a black stripe in the middle, while in a non-breeding season, they will have a yellow-brown bill with no stripes. If you hear lots of different types of calls, such as cooing and gurgling sounds, that’s your bird. 

Pied-billed Grebe Song 

Pied-billed Grebes certainly have the right to brag about their vocal ability. The calls they can make surpasses a lot of songbirds. They have a huge list of sounds, but the most commonly heard ones are whooping, gulping, and cooing noises. They also have this chatter sound, high in pitch, and it sounds as if they are chuckling a bit. 

Pied-billed Grebe Size

You will be amazed to know that Pied-billed Grebes are actually small compared to American Coot. In size, they are similar to a Green-winged Teal, provided you had the pleasure of seeing a teal first. The length of their body spans 30 to 38 cm. These birds can weigh 253-568 grams. This mostly depends on the age and the access to food for these birds. The wingspan can be anywhere from 42 to 62 cm. 

Essentially, these swimming birds are actually small and chunky in shape. Their body fits in a small space. Most of their height is compressed in their neck, but they usually don’t straighten it. Their bill is short, and it is attached to a block-shaped head.  As for the tail, well, good luck to anyone trying to find it. 

Pied-billed Grebe Behavior

Pied-billed Grebes rarely fly. They usually use their feet to move forward. While foraging, they spot their prey and dive underwater to pick them out with their bill. Otherwise, they are already swimming underwater and pick out their prey in the process.

What Pied-billed Grebes Eat

Pied-billed Grebes eat lots of fish, insects, and other aquatic creatures. The diet is diverse, relying on the location and the season. As the availability of food changes depending on the weather, so does their diet. In whatever habitat they are in, they probably end up eating the smallest aquatic life they can find. A major part of their diet consists of small fish, crustaceans, insects, and leeches. Frog, tadpoles, mollusk, salamanders, spiders, and other small aquatic life plants are also included in the food group. 

Following the ways of other Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes also eat feathers. Even their young are given feathers to feed on. 

Where Pied-billed Grebes Live And Habitat

Pied-billed Grebes have chosen marshes, lakes, and ponds as their ideal resting place. In these places, they usually stay the entire year. Only the birds that live somewhere where the water freezes in winter feel the need to migrate. In winter, some of them might wander around salt bays. 

Breeding season, Pied-billed Grebes look for vegetation with heavy marsh around them. They also like it if there’s an open water body in the area. Then, during migration and the winter season, they still hang around freshwater marshy ponds. They also tend to be around open waters. This includes coastal bays and estuaries. 

Range and Migration

The entire year, you can find Pied-billed Grebes in South America, the Caribbean, Central America, and North America. During the breeding season in summer, the Grebes are more prominently present in the northeast, north, and central part of Canada. If they are residing in someplace where the water starts freezing during winter, they take it as the ideal time to migrate. The birds that migrate end up meeting the ones that reside the whole year in whatever place they have chosen to live around September and October. 

The migration takes place throughout the night. From March to April, birds start leaving for migration. Occasionally, they show up in Hawaii or Europe. In 2019, about 45 Pied-billed Grebes were seen visiting the United Kingdom. They usually show up there from October to January. One of the birds there actually ended up breeding with one little Grebe. Consequently, it happens to be the only one of the species that has set its feet on the Galapagos Islands.

To put it simply, the southern Pied-billed Grebes live as permanent residents. The ones in the north tend to migrate a lot. The migration either begins in late fall or early spring. 

Pied-billed Grebe Life Cycle

Pied-billed Grebes’ brood has 4 to 7 eggs. This number can dwindle to a 2 or rise to a 10. The eggs are originally a pale, blue shade. Stains of brown can be spotted on the sides of the eggs. While both the male and female parent participates in incubating the eggs, the female does take the bigger load of the work. If the parents are not present in the nest, they hide the eggs with the materials of the nest. 

No sooner do the eggs hatch, the young begin their swimming journey. Both parents prepare food for the young. Often, they hitch a ride on the back of their parents with their small form. Adults even take the young to swim underwater while the young latch onto their back. 

It is unknown at which age the young become capable of flying. In a year, they might have one or more one brood. The ones living in the southern region are likely to lay more eggs. 


If the climate is to their liking, the breeding season may go on for a long while. It may start from the early parts of spring and carry on well into the middle of autumn. They don’t have the most rule-following ritual for courtship. They are relaxed on that count, more so if we compare them to other Grebes. The courtship involves lots of calling and the potential partners might even do a duet together. 

In the shallow marsh water, they make their nest. They build the nest right beside the opening. This way, the birds can come back to the nest even while swimming under the water. Both the female and male partner helps build the nest. To create the nest, several different kinds of thick plant material are used. Either the dead vegetation is made so that they float or they are stuffed with so much material from the start that the nest stays anchored to a patch of upright vegetation. 

Anatomy of a Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebes’ most noticeable part of the anatomy is the neck. It is slender and usually stays bent. The bird species is shaped similarly to a duck and a snake. The S-shaped neck joins an adequately sized, blocky head. The eyes are big on the head. The face is shaped by a thick bill, though extremely short in size. If Pied-billed Grebes were not such good swimmers, they would have a hard time catching their prey from under the water with that bill. 

Then, the body is shaped like a football. By body, we mostly mean the belly area. The wings are neither long nor short. Unless it is migration season, it is also of no use to them. They don’t bother flying much during breeding season or wintering. The tail is not visible to the eyes. It is that small and ends quickly as it begins. The legs, comparatively, are short but present. Except, you probably won’t be able to see them half the time since half of their body is mostly submerged underwater. 

Final Thoughts

Pied-billed Grebes are a common lot. Whether you look for them in Canada or in the U.S., if you take out your birding gears and look around their habitat, you would be able to observe them. Especially in summer, they rest around large ponds and lakes that aren’t the biggest in size. These water bodies come with a good amount of vegetation surrounding it. Bulrushes and cattails might be among them.

 You want to keep your gaze trained on the edges of areas where vegetation is growing. If you see a mass of dead vegetation floating around, carefully inspect it from far away with your binoculars. There’s a good chance what you are looking at is the nest of Pied-billed Grebes. Winter season, you want to target the large water body areas. There, they often gather in small flocks. The big head paired with a large body is a shape that’s hard to miss. They also dive underwater a lot. So, other than scanning the vegetation edges, look for them floating and walking over the water bodies. 

Pied-billed Grebes are a widespread, common bunch. They stay in lots of places throughout the year, so they are easy to spot. Only, the recent trends show they are declining. So, before humans end up placing another bird species on the endangered list, you would want to see them from far away without disturbing them. 

Bird Coloring Page

Pied-billed Grebe Bird coloring pages and coloring pictures have somewhat taken a back seat in the child’s development stage. Many children are becoming gadget-friendly and don’t like to do anything that involves something physical. Although cute coloring pages and coloring pictures might seem like a simple task, believe me, it has so many advantages. It excites children, and motivates them, and is a healthy educational activity. Here are some benefits of coloring pages for children.


Bird Watching Academy & Camp Subscription Boxes

At Bird Watching Academy & Camp we help kids, youth, and adults get excited and involved in bird watching. We have several monthly subscription boxes that you can subscribe to. Our monthly subscription boxes help kids, youth, and adults learn about birds, bird watching, and bird conservation.

Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Pied-billed Grebe  

The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Pied-billed Grebe are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.

Pied-billed Grebe Stickers

Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Pied-billed Grebe. Here is the sticker pack we sell with a Pied-billed Grebe sticker.

Bird Feeders For Pied-billed Grebe

There are many types of bird feeders. Here are our favorite bird feeders for your backyard. We use all of these bird feeders currently. Kids will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. Using this collection of bird feeders will provide a wide variety and many types of birds.

Best Birdhouses for Pied-billed Grebe

There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. These 4 bird houses have become our favorites. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. We spent a little extra money on these bird houses but they have been worth the higher price and look great.

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