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Eared Grebe

Podiceps nigricollis

Length: 12.5 inches Wingspan: 22 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: Summer plumage in South Dakota is black neck with gold ear tufts

Eared Grebe - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebes are a fairly common grebe in the state, more so than the similar Horned Grebe.  They are also found in parts of Europe and Asia, where they are called the "Black-necked Grebe".  They are a very gregarious bird, often breeding in very large colonies, and often migrating together in huge flocks.  The "ear" of the Eared Grebe is a tuft of gold feathers behind the eye that appears during breeding season.  The photo on the right is of a pair of birds in breeding plumage.  Neck color is a distinguishing mark used to differentiate summer plumage Eared Grebes and Horned Grebes.


Eared Grebes breed on sloughs, marshes, or shallow ponds and lakes with with herbaceous wetland vegetation. They are typically found in open habitats, not forested lakes and ponds. In winter they can be found on both coastlines and inland saline lakes and ponds.


The diet of an Eared Grebe consists mostly of aquatic insects and crustaceans, and occasionally tadpoles, small frogs, and small fish. 


Feeds by diving underwater and propelling itself by its feet.  Will also take food items from the surface of the water.


June and July. As with some other grebe species, the breeding season begins with elaborate courtship rituals. The prospective pair call back and forth and approach other, often diving simultaneously, coming up, and posturing for each other. The pair may make extended "dances" that consist of rising up in the water and furiously paddling in an upright posture across the surface with necks raised.

Eared Grebes are colonial nesters, often nesting in very close proximity to each other. The nest itself is a platform of vegetation that floats above the water's surface. It's built of wetland vegetation and anchored to cattails and other surrounding vegetation. The female lays between 2 and 8 eggs, with both parents helping to incubate them. Incubation lasts about 3 weeks, and within a couple of hours of hatching, the young can leave the nest with the parents, are are capable of swimming and foraging on their own. They often ride on the backs of their parents for the first couple of weeks until the young are better able to take care of themselves.


The typical call heard during the breeding season is a risking oooEEEK, ending with a muted clicking sound. They also have a rising whistling call.


Summers on interior lakes of the west and northern plains, summers along the Pacific Coast, the Gulf Coast, and Mexico.

Interactive eBird Map:

 Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Eared Grebe sightings

Similar Species:

There's one species often confused with Eared Grebes, and a couple of other grebe species that could potentially be confused with Eared Grebes dependent upon season:

Horned Grebe 9 - Aythya collaris Horned Grebe 3 - Aythya collaris Pied-billed Grebe 6 - Podilymbus podiceps Red-necked Grebe 2 - Podiceps grisegena
Horned Grebe (breeding plumage) Horned Grebe (Spring plumage in transition) Pied-billed Grebe (non-breeding plumage) Red-necked Grebe (breeding plumage)

Conservation Status:

There are no discernible overall trends in populations from systematic surveys in the US, such as the Breeding Bird Survey. They are found across a very broad geographic area (both in North America, and in Europe and Asia), are common in parts of that range, and have very high global populations. The IUCN considers the Eared Grebe to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information:

Photo Information:

May 20th, 2018 - Weisensee Slough, Minnehaha County, South Dakota -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos:

Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Eared Grebe photos.

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Eared Grebe - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant throughout the state.  Common summer resident in the eastern part of the state.

Additional Eared Grebe Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Eared Grebe 1 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 2 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 3 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 4 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 5 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 6 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 7 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 8 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 9 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 10 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 11 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 12 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 13 - Podiceps nigricollisEared Grebe 14 - Podiceps nigricollis