Pied-billed Grebes

Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps)

The Pied-billed Grebes, (Podilymbus podiceps), is a species of the grebe family of water birds. Since the Atitlán Grebe, Podilymbus gigas, has become extinct, it is the sole extant member of the genus Podilymbus.

Pied-billed Grebes
Pied-billed Grebes

Breeding / Nesting and Distribution

The Pied-billed Grebes breeds across Canada, parts of the United States, and temperate South America. Although this species does not appear to be a strong flier, it has occurred in Europe as a rare vagrant on a number of occasions, and one bird in England bred with a Little Grebe, producing hybrid young.

The most widespread of North American grebes, it is found on remote ponds, marshes, and sluggish streams. It is usually the first grebe to arrive on northern inland waters in springtime, and the last to leave in autumn. It is rare in salt water. This grebe rarely flies, preferring to escape danger by diving.

Diet / Food

It feeds on fish (carp, catfish, eels), insects (dragonflies, ants, beetles), and amphibians (frogs, tadpoles).


The Pied-billed Grebes is small at 31-38 cm (12″-15″) in length, stocky, and short-necked. It is usually brown or grey in colour. It has a short, blunt chicken-like bill, which in summer is encircled by a broad black band (hence the name). It is the only grebe that does not show a white wing patch in flight.

Pied-billed Grebes Floating In the Water
Pied-billed Grebes Floating In the Water

Call / Song

This grebe is usually silent, except in breeding season when the male voices a loud, laughing cuck, cuck, cuck or cow, cow, cow.

Folk Names

Folk names of this grebe include dabchick, devil-diver, dive-dapper, hell-diver, and water witch.

There are several prehistoric taxa of Podilymbus described from fossil remains:

  • Podilymbus majusculus (Late Pliocene of WC USA)
  • Podilymbus wetmorei (Late Pleistocene of Florida, USA)
  • Podilymbus podiceps magnus – a paleosubspecies of the Pied-billed Grebe of uncertain validity.

Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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