South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Western Grebe

Aechmophorus occidentalis

Length: 22 to 29 inches Wingspan: 31 to 40 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Long greenish yellow bill, black cap extending below eye (summer), long slender neck

Western Grebe - Aechmophorus occidentalisIdentical in size and shape to Clark's Grebe, once considered to be a lighter morph of the Western Grebe.  Bill colors are slightly different, and the Clark's Grebe has white both above and below the eye.  Note that in winter, facial patterns are nearly identical for both species, making identification much more difficult.  They breed across much of the western United States and Canada, as well as in Mexico.  Mating pairs of  Western Grebes perform a spectacular mating display, paddling furiously across the surface in a very upright posture.

Habitat: Sloughs and shallow lakes with emergent vegetation. 

Diet: Mostly fish in all seasons. Occasionally eats insects, crustaceans, and salamanders.  

Behavior: Feeds by diving from the surface and swimming underwater for prey, propelling itself by its feet.  Western Grebes are very gregarious, forming loose breeding colonies during the summer, as well as forming close flocks in the winter.

Nesting: Late May through mid-July.

Breeding Map: Breeding bird survey map

Song: Loud crick-kreek, or harsh whistled c-r-r-ee-er-r-r-ee.

Migration: Most Western Grebes winter on the Pacific Coast, with smaller numbers on interior waters in the Southwest and yet smaller numbers along the western Gulf Coast.

Similar Species: Clark's Grebe.  See ID Key's for Western vs. Clark's Grebe.  Winter plumage Red-necked Grebes can also look roughly similar to Western Grebes.

Status: Generally stable through most of it's range.  However, there is some evidence that they're susceptible to various environmental toxins such as insecticides, and that accumulation of these materials in a bird's system can result in dramatically reduced breeding success.

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Western Grebe

2) Western Grebe

3) Western Grebe

Photo Information: April 19th, 2007 - Point Reyes National Seashore, California - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Western Grebe photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Western Grebe - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common migrant throughout the state.  Common summer breeding resident in the northeast, uncommon elsewhere in the state in summer.