Bird Database

Pied-billed Grebe

(Podilymbus podiceps)

State of the Birds
At a Glance







Invasive species, Altered wetland hydrology

Conservation Actions

Protect and restore wetlands

Pied-billed Grebe

(Podilymbus podiceps)

Although frequently seen in migration, the Pied-billed Grebe has always been a rare breeder in New Hampshire. In most years there are probably fewer than ten nesting sites: a mix of those that have been occupied for many years and some that might only be used for one or two. This current situation is similar to that recorded during the Breeding Bird Atlas in the 1980s, when 10-12 sites were occupied over a six-year period. Areas with the most consistent activity include scattered wetlands north of the White Mountains and in extreme southeastern New Hampshire (but not near the coast). Because this species is widely dispersed and hard to detect, there are no standardized data from which we can determine more accurate population trends.

To a significant degree the fate of the Pied-billed Grebe is tied to that of the wetlands in which it nests. Overall wetland loss is a clear threat, but equally important is water level. Grebes build floating nests composed of soft plant material like cattail and water lily stems, attached to emergent vegetation in 1-6 feet of water. If water levels rise during nesting the nest risks being flooded, while if they fall it may become more accessible to land-based predators. Natural succession can also reduce habitat suitability for grebes as vegetation gradually fills in the open marshy areas of beaver ponds or man-made impoundments. Perhaps because their habitat is often ephemeral, grebes are effective colonizers, and will come and go even from frequently used sites in response to changes in water levels. This behavior makes it difficult to assess populations since birds from a reliable site could move even a short distance and still be undetected.

Where grebes do nest, they are often heard before they are seen. Their most common call is a song consisting of multiple diverse phrases that has variously been compared to noises made by donkeys, monkeys, or cuckoos. It can be heard from quite a distance and is usually a clear indication that there is a grebe territory in the vicinity. If grebes do nest, watch for the striped chicks by June or July. When they are still small, they will often all climb upon a parent’s back to rest or shelter, making for a scenario reminiscent of a “clown car” when six or more chicks emerge and tumble into the water.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Pied-billed Grebe
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count