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Horned Grebe, Ian Routley
Photo © Ian Routley

Photo: Ian Routley
Breeding evidence - Horned Grebe
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - Horned Grebe
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - Horned Grebe
Elevation plot

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Horned Grebe
Podiceps auritus
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
148 - 904 m
Conserv. status:
COSEWIC: Special Concern (western population)
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
36 37 47 6
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 -8.06 (-19.0 - -1.01)Low
Canada1970 - 2012 -1.9 (-4.13 - -0.092)Medium

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
 0.06 0.13   
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range The striking combination of rusty neck, dark head and golden plumes or "horns" makes the Horned Grebe perhaps the most visually attractive of all the grebes in breeding plumage. It has a circumpolar distribution, breeding in northern wetlands of both Eurasia, where its English name is Slavonian Grebe, and North America, where it is widely distributed from the Prairies and central Boreal Forest west to Alaska. North American birds winter along the Pacific Coast from the Aleutian Islands south to Baja California, as well as the Atlantic Coast and in some inland areas (Stedman 2000).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat Horned Grebes are confirmed breeders in sparsely distributed clusters east of the Coast Mountains with notable gaps through the Sub-boreal Interior and Northern Boreal Mountains ecoprovinces. Clusters of confirmed and probable breeding were in the Peace River lowlands, the Cariboo, and across the Thompson-Nicola plateau. Elevation data were limited, but ranged from about 450-900 m in the interior down to 150 m along the Skeena valley in the Coast Mountains. This breeding distribution is similar to that shown when The Birds of British Columbia was published in 1990, except that fewer records and less nesting evidence were found during the Atlas surveys on the plateaux and in the valleys of the Southern Interior and Southern Interior Mountains ecoprovinces.

The Probability of Observation for Horned Grebes is low everywhere, but highest in the Peace River lowlands of the Boreal Plains Ecoprovince. The PObs values for the Taiga Plains and Central Interior ecoprovinces were similar but dropped significantly for the more southerly ecoprovinces. This is consistent with recent challenges in trying to find Horned Grebes during the nesting season in southern British Columbia, possibly suggesting a reduced distribution across southernmost parts of the province, and/or reflecting that Atlas surveys of sites where the species breeds irregularly were limited or coincided with lean years.

Nesting occurs on small ponds, sloughs and river backwaters in both forested and open environments. Nesting wetlands support a variety of vegetation including Cattail (Typha latifolia), bulrush (Scirpus), sedge (Cyperaceae), rush (Juncaceae), water milfoil (Myriophyllum), pondweed (Potamogeton), and muskgrass (Chara) species (Campbell et al. 1990).

Conservation and Recommendations The Horned Grebe has recently been listed by COSEWIC (2009) as Special Concern due to ongoing, range-wide, long-term declines, which sparse Breeding Bird Survey data suggest may be steeper in British Columbia than elsewhere. Threats include loss of wetlands during droughts, degradation of wetland breeding sites, and increasing nest predators (chiefly on the Prairies). Conservation and maintenance of healthy wetlands for breeding must be an essential part of any conservation strategies for this species. Targeted surveys should be undertaken for this species in British Columbia to better understand its status, habitat requirements, and responses to change on the edge of its main range.

Rick Howie

Recommended citation: Howie, R. 2015. Horned Grebe in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Jul 2024]

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