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Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus

This species is thought to be undergoing rapid declines based on counts in its North American and European range, owing to the effects of human disturbance, forestry operations around breeding lakes, fluctuating water levels, and the stocking of lakes with rainbow trout. It has therefore been uplisted to Vulnerable.

Taxonomic source(s)
AERC TAC. 2003. AERC TAC Checklist of bird taxa occurring in Western Palearctic region, 15th Draft. Available at: # _the_WP15.xls#.
Cramp, S.; Perrins, C. M. 1977-1994. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The birds of the western Palearctic. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

31-38 cm grebe. Nominate race in breeding plumage has blackish cap, hindneck and upperparts; lores warm brown; broad golden band over and behind eye; blackish lower face; chestnut to maroon-chestnut foreneck and sides of neck, breast-sides and flanks; white abdomen; iris red; bill black (Llimona et al. 2014). Non-breeding adult has greyish-black cap to just below eye; lores diffusely pale; grey or brown-grey sides of neck, sometimes extending across upper foreneck; upperparts dark slate-grey; lower face, chin, throat and sides of upper neck white; bill dark grey. Race cornutus very similar to nominate but tends to have paler tuft on sides of head and in non-breeding plumage is greyer above and grey fringes to dorsal feathers are broader. Similar spp. Differs in non-breeding plumage from similar Black-necked Grebe P. nigricollis in having almost all-white ear-coverts, heavier and straighter bill, flat crown, usually some white on forewing, and white on rear wing not extending to inner primaries (Llimona et al. 2014). Voice Most common call a hoarse rattling "hee-arrr" on descending scale (Llimona et al. 2014). In display it makes a loud pulsating trill of whinnying and fast giggle-like notes ending in a drawn-out note. Generally silent outside breeding season.

Distribution and population
This species is found in the Palearctic and Nearctic. It breeds from Iceland and the Baltic to Kamchatka, Russia, wintering from the North Sea to the Caspian Sea and off Japan to China (Llimona et al. 2014). Birds breeding from central Alaska (U.S.A.) to central Canada and north-west/north-central U.S.A. with isolated populations in Magdalen Islands, Quebec (Canada) winter from the Aleutian Islands south to California and from Nova Scotia south to Texas. No more than 25 adults have been recorded during the breeding season on the Magdalen Islands since 1993 (COSEWIC 2009).

Population justification
The global population is estimated to number c. 239,000-583,000 individuals (Wetlands International 2012). The European population is estimated at 6,400-9,200 pairs, which equates to 12,900-18,500 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe holds <10% of the global population with a similar proportion in Asia.

Trend justification
This species has undergone a large and statistically significant decrease over the last 40 years in North America (-75.9% decline over 40 years, equating to a -29.9% decline per decade; data from Breeding Bird Survey and/or Christmas Bird Count: Butcher and Niven 2007). Overall it is highly likely that the population has declined by >30% over the last three generations (COSEWIC 2009). The relatively small European population is estimated to be decreasing at a rate approaching 30% in 21.3 years (three generations) (BirdLife International 2015).

The species breeds on small, shallow fresh (del Hoyo et al. 1992), brackish or slightly alkaline (Fjeldså 2004) waters between 0.5 and 2 m deep and between 1 and 20 ha in area (Snow and Perrins 1998) with rich floating (Konter 2001), submergent and emergent vegetation (Fjeldså 2004). Habitats include small pools, marshes with patches of open water and secluded sections of larger lakes and rivers (del Hoyo et al. 1992). The nest is a platform of aquatic vegetation either floating and anchored to emergent vegetation, built from the lake bottom (where water is shallow) or built on rocks at water level (del Hoyo et al. 1992). In its wintering range the species frequents coastal inshore waters (del Hoyo et al. 1992) up to 10-20 m in depth (Fjeldså 2004) including sheltered bays (del Hoyo et al. 1992), lagoons and estuaries (Ogilvie and Rose 2003). It may also occur on large lake and river systems south of its breeding range (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Fjeldså 2004). 

Its diet consists predominantly of fish and invertebrates such as adult and larval insects (e.g. beetles, dragonflies, mayflies, water bugs, damselflies and caddisflies), crustaceans (del Hoyo et al. 1992) (e.g. brine shrimp, cladocerans, amphipods, decapods (del Hoyo et al. 1992), crayfish (Fjeldså 2004) and crabs (Konter 2001)), molluscs and worms (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Fish and crustaceans are more important components of the diet during the winter when the species is at sea (del Hoyo et al. 1992). This species is fully migratory (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and travels over land in stages on a broad front, some populations only moving short distances to the nearest ice-free coast (Fjeldså 2004).

The main threats to the species are human disturbance, forestry operations around breeding lakes (e.g. afforestation leading to hydrological changes and resulting in reduced numbers of invertebrate prey), fluctuating water levels, and the stocking of lakes with rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss (which competes with the species for aquatic insects) (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Outbreaks of Type E Botulism in the Great Lakes may be an important cause of mortality (COSEWIC 2009). Historical range contractions have also occurred due to acidification and increased humus content of lakes, and the species is vulnerable to hypertrophication (Fjeldså 2004). It is commonly caught and accidentally drowned in fishing nets (del Hoyo et al. 1992) and is particularly vulnerable to oil spills in the marine environment during the winter (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Ogilvie and Rose 2003, Fjeldså 2004, COSEWIC 2009). On the prairies of Canada the spread of predators (Common Raven Corvus corax, Black-billed Magpie Pica pica and Raccoon Procyon lotor) poses a threat to the western population as does competition with other waterbirds such as Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena and Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps (COSEWIC 2009).

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II (western Palearctic populations). EU Birds Directive Annex I. Bern Convention Appendix II. In Canada the western population (British Columbia to Ontario) is considered of Special Concern and the breeding population on the Magdalen Islands, Quebec is considered Endangered (COSEWIC 2009). An action plan for the population breeding on the Magdalen Islands, Canada has been developed (Environment Canada 2014). At a breeding lake in Scotland (Loch Ruthven) sedge beds are being extended to provide more nesting habitat for the species (Ogilvie and Rose 2003).

Conservation and Research Actions Proposed
Identify sites of international importance for the species and implement site protection. Populations should be closely monitored to determine whether numbers are stable or whether local declines are symptomatic of more widespread problems. Conduct survey work to accurately ascertain the current population sizes of both subspecies. Marginal populations in north-western Europe which have shown strong historical fluctuations should also be monitored (O'Donnel and Fjeldså 1997). Stricter legislation on oil drilling and transport should be enforced and mitigation measures against bycatch in fisheries implemented.

For the population breeding on the Magdalen Islands, Canada a series of approaches to conserving the species have been proposed (Environment Canada 2014) including: protect critical habitat; increase awareness of the species among the general public; work with land managers to protect important habitats and sites for the species; limit human disturbance; implement research into population dynamics and ecology including migration patterns; develop methods to reduce interspecific competition; work with partners in the U.S.A. where birds from the Magdalen Islands are likely to winter.

BirdLife International. 2015. European Red List of Birds. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg.

Brazil, M. 2009. Birds of East Asia: eastern China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, eastern Russia. Christopher Helm, London.

COSEWIC. 2009. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus, Western population and Magdalen Islands population, in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, Ottawa.

del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A.; Sargatal, J. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Delany, S.; Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird population estimates. Wetlands International, Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Environment Canada. 2014. Action Plan for the Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), Magdalen Islands population, in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act Action Plan Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa.

Fjeldså, J. 2004. The grebes. Oxford University Press, Oxford, U.K.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Konter, A. 2001. Grebes of our world. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Llimona, F., del Hoyo, J., Christie, D.A., Jutglar, F., Garcia, E.F.J. and Kirwan, G.M. 2014. Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. and de Juana, E. (eds), Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Ogilvie, M.; Rose, C. 2003. Grebes of the World. Bruce Coleman, Uxbridge.

Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume 1: Non-Passerines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Wetlands International. 2012. Waterbird Population Estimates: 5th Edition.

Further web sources of information
Detailed regional assessment and species account from the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International, 2015)

Detailed species account from Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status (BirdLife International 2004)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Ashpole, J, Burfield, I., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ekstrom, J., Ieronymidou, C., Malpas, L., Pople, R., Wheatley, H. & Wright, L

Raudonikis, L., Ellermaa, M. & Mischenko, A.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Podiceps auritus. Downloaded from on 26/11/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 26/11/2015.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Horned grebe (Podiceps auritus) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Podicipedidae (Grebes)
Species name author (Linnaeus, 1758)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 4,000,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species
- 2015 European Red List assessment