Horned Grebes construct floating nests, but the nests ride so low in the water that the eggs often lie in a shallow pool of water. When an incubating parent is frightened off its nest, it will frequently attempt to cover the eggs with wet vegetation before leaving them. Unlike the fully webbed feet of loons, waterfowl, terns and gulls, grebes' feet are lobed: the three forward-facing toes have individual webbing that is not connected to the other toes. This bird's common name, and its scientific name auritus, meaning 'eared,' refer to the golden 'ears,' or 'horns,' that these grebes acquire in their breeding plumage.
I.D.: Sexes similar. Breeding: rufous neck and flanks; black cheek and forehead; golden ear tufts ('horns'); black back; white underparts; red eyes; flat crown. In flight: wings beat constantly; hunchbacked appearance; legs trail behind the tail.
Size: L 12-15 in. (30-38 cm).
Range: fairly common spring and fall migrant throughout the Rockies; occasional breeder in the northern U.S. Rockies and in some low-elevation passes.
Habitat: never seen on land. In migration: wetlands and larger lakes. Breeding: shallow, weedy wetlands.
Nesting: usually nests singly or in groups of
2 or 3 pairs; in thick vegetation in lake edges, ponds, marshes and reservoirs; shallow, floating platform nest, made of wet and decaying plants, is anchored to or placed among emergent vegetation; pair incubates 4-7 eggs and raises the young together.
Feeding: makes shallow dives and gleans
the surface for aquatic insects, crustaceans, mollusks, small fish and adult and larval amphibians.
Voice: loud series of croaks and shrieking notes and a sharp keark keark during courtship; usually quiet outside the breeding season.
Similar Species: Eared Grebe: black neck in breeding plumage. Pied-billed Grebe: thicker bill; mostly brown body. Rednecked Grebe: larger; generally louder; white cheek.