Horned Grebe    Podiceps auritus

Just as the green of summer foliage changes into the yellows and rusts in fall, so to do some of our aquatic avian friends change their wardrobes.  One notable species is the horned grebe.  The photograph shows the winter colors of drab grey, white and black.  However in the spring this avian dandy sprouts feathers of great color and beauty.  During mating season the neck, breast and belly sport a bright russet while vivid yellow eye brows seem to sprout from the red eyes surrounded by a black head and back.  

The horned grebe is a common winter resident of Puget Sound where it roams the shallow waters diving for small fish, crustaceans and mollusks. They are well equipped to spend their lives in water with rear mounted legs and toes that are lobed for maximum underwater propulsion.  As such they are not good on land like ducks and geese. The horned grebe averages 13 inches long and ranges from Alaska to southern California and the Gulf coast depending on the season.

Usually hunting alone or with a few other individuals in winter they will begin to socialize in spring as the breeding season approaches.  Like other grebes, the mating dance is a sight to see.  The courting pair will swim together and then rush forward in parallel on their tiptoes, running for tens of feet before plunging back into the water.  Other grebe species perform the same type of behavior.  They nest in freshwater areas where they build a floating platform of vegetation anchored in reeds.  The young are able to swim and dive right after birth, but are often carried by the parents protected by the folded wings.  

The grebes are an ancient group of birds having probably evolved in South America.  There are seven species in North America ranging in size from the nine inch least grebe to the large winter visitor, the western grebe at 25 inches.