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Horned grebes (Podiceps auritus) are birds of North America that are also seen in other areas like Asia and Europe. They are also known also as Slavonian podiceps, devil-divers, hell-divers, pink-eyed divers, and water witches. These birds belong to the family Podicipedidae and are found in different kinds of aquatic habitats. Other birds belonging to this family are western grebes and eared grebes.
The diet of horned grebes includes insects, various small fish, and amphibians. These birds are known to build their nests by anchoring them to emergent vegetation. The horned grebe transitional plumage is also quite well-known, as winter horned grebes do not appear the same as the breeding ones. Horned grebe males also have slight variations when compared to females. Horned grebes breed following complex mating rituals. The North American range of this species has faced rapid decline due to several man-made causes.
The horned grebe (Podiceps auritus) is a kind of waterbird, also known as the Slavonian horned grebe. They are one of the several grebe species and they have certain characteristics like other grebes.
Horned grebes belong to the class Aves. They are a part of the order Podicipediformes, family Podicipedidae. There are two subspecies of horned grebes that are known.
The global population of this bird species is estimated to be about 239,000 to 583,000 individuals. In Europe, the number of mature individuals is between 12,900 to 18,500. The population of this species has been decreasing due to several man-made reasons throughout its range. The last three generations of this species have seen more than a 30% decrease in population, according to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) 2009 report.
The horned grebe range extends over a wide area. This species spends the winter season in several parts of North America from Alaska to Mexico in the west and Nova Scotia to the Gulf Coast in the east. They are also seen in inland lakes. Their breeding range includes areas in Washington, Wisconsin, and South Dakota. Their breeding and wintering range also extends to Eurasia.
The winter habitat and breeding habitat slightly vary in this species. These birds are seen in freshwater lakes provided with open water and marsh vegetation during the breeding period. Their nest can be seen in marshes and ponds. At times, a nest can also be seen on the river. The winter season for this bird species is spent in bays, exposed shores, and sometimes freshwater lakes.
The horned grebe (Podiceps auritus) species are usually seen feeding in solitary. However, they can also feed in flocks. These birds are migratory and tend to migrate alone. Horned grebe parents are also known to care for their chicks together, and they live with each other during that period of time.
The longest known lifespan of a horned grebe has been five years and two months.
The horned grebe breeding season peaks from June through August. The breeding adults of horned grebes are monogamous in nature and their breeding ritual involves a lot of courtship displays. The horned grebe preening and penguin dancing is a part of their intricate mating rituals. They also perform a lot of calls and vocalizations. Both a horned grebe male and female shake their heads and take part in a triumph ceremony when they have successfully established themselves as a pair. Both sexes participate in building their nest with wet plant material in and around marsh vegetation. The nest remains anchored to emergent vegetation on open water. These birds are very defensive of their nest. Females lay three to eight eggs and both parents take part in incubation. Once the horned grebe chicks hatch out, they ride on their parents' back for a week. However, they can swim and dive.
The conservation status of horned grebes has been marked as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN. Earlier in 2012, these birds were marked as Least Concern, but due to a continual decline in their range and population, they have now made them Vulnerable. Most of their threats are due to man-made causes like oil spills, pollution, the setting up of dams, and residential development. Habitat loss is a major issue harming their population range. Climate change also affects horned grebes and modifies their range. The current winter temperatures in North America allow these birds to maintain their normal distribution. However, if the average winter temperature were to increase by 37.4 F (3 C), 17% of their range would be lost in certain areas of North America.
Horned grebes can be considered to be smaller birds. The horned grebe breeding plumage is different than the horned grebe winter plumage. During the breeding period, these birds have red necks, dark throats and heads, and yellow or bright orange 'horns' on top of their heads. These horns make this bird stand out. However, in the winter or non-breeding season, their plumage becomes a lot duller. They can be seen with a dark back, neck, and crown, and white cheeks, breast, and throat. The male bird appears brighter and larger than the female. Juvenile horned grebes resemble their parents. These birds also have red eyes. Though the exact reason behind having red eyes is not known, it could be to attract potential mates or to get a clearer vision underwater.
Horned grebes appear very cute and unique. Their attractive and brightly colored breeding plumage makes them stand out.
Horned grebes are mostly known to communicate through vocalizations. Even though these birds are mostly silent, they can be heard making calls during the breeding season. A breeding pair also performs a duet at times. They sometimes use physical displays to effectively communicate with each other. Their courtship displays include making 'trill' sounds.
The length of the body in horned grebes is between 12.-15.3 in (31-39 cm). They have a wingspan between 21.6-29 in (55-74 cm). Western grebes are also North American birds and the largest grebes in this region. A red-eyed horned grebe is smaller than a western grebe.
Like other grebes, horned grebes also need to run on the surface before they can take off for their flight. The horned grebe flying involves them using very rapid wingbeats. They are known to be quick fliers, with an average speed of 34.4 mph (55.5 kph) with no wind. Horned grebes are migratory birds. In winter, horned grebes can be found in coastal areas and in the breeding season, they can be found on inland lakes. Apart from this, horned grebes are very adept swimmers as well. They are capable of remaining submerged for nearly three minutes.
The weight range of a horned grebe bird is between 10.5-20 oz (300-570 g).
The male and female birds belonging to this species are known as a horned grebe male and a horned grebe female, respectively.
A baby horned grebe is known as a 'horned grebe chick' or 'juvenile horned grebe'.
Horned grebes are carnivorous in nature and their diet includes a variety of animals. These grebes feed on various kinds of small fish, amphibians, aquatic insects, crustaceans, and aquatic worms. They dive underneath the water's surface to catch their prey. They can also eat plant material from time to time.
Horned grebes aren't known to be aggressive towards humans. However, they do display territorial behavior amongst themselves and become aggressive when protecting their chicks or their nests.
Horned grebes are North American birds that are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act. It is not possible to keep them as pets, unless a license or permit has been obtained.
In Blackfeet mythology, the horned grebe bird plays quite an important role. A trickster old man in Blackfeet lore convinced several ducks to close their eyes and dance. While they did what he asked, the old man killed them one by one. However, the smallest duck that was present there opened its eyes, saw what was going on, and alerted the others. This duck who was the first to notice trouble was a horned grebe.
Just like a horned grebe, an eared grebe or a black-necked grebe also has two different plumages. Both birds belong to the same order Podicipediformes. When comparing the two in horned grebe vs eared grebe, the former has a larger wingspan.
Like other grebes, horned grebes are known to eat their own feathers. They do so for an interesting reason. Horned grebes tend to swallow a whole fish while feeding. They have adapted to eating their feathers which act as a plug-in their stomach and holds the fish bones until digestion. Therefore, the fish bones dissolve instead of ending up in the intestine.
Horned grebes get their name from the tufts of feathers located right behind their eyes. These tufts of feathers are usually yellowish or bright orange in color and appear like 'horns', giving these ducks the name of horned grebes. Interestingly, these horns are only seen in the birds during the breeding season and are not part of the horned grebe non-breeding plumage.
You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our Horned Grebe coloring pages.
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