Small, slender-necked, with short, sharply pointed bill, they measure –15 inches (30–38 cm). In breeding plumage, body dark, with rufous neck and flanks; head blackish, with conspicuous buff ear tufts. In winter, upper parts dark; chin and fore neck white. The most common saltwater grebe in the east.
Breeds on marshes and lakes; winters mainly on salt water, but also on lakes and rivers where the water does not freeze.
Four to seven bluish-white eggs, stained buff, on nest of floating vegetation anchored to marsh plants.
Breeds from Alaska and northern Canada south to Washington and Oregon, Dakotas, and northern Great Lakes, and rarely to Wisconsin. Winters in Aleutians and south along Pacific Coast to southern California, and along Atlantic and Gulf coasts to Texas. Also in Eurasia.
Usually silent. On breeding grounds a variety of croaks, shrieks, and chatters.
These grebes are only occasionally seen in flight; once on the wintering grounds they seldom fly, and they migrate almost entirely at night. Like other grebes, the young can swim and dive immediately after hatching but are often seen riding on the parents’ backs. And like other grebes, the horned grebe swallows large numbers of its own feathers, which lodge in the stomach and prevent fish bones from passing into the intestines. Even newly hatched young eat feathers, taking those of their parents. Birds of fresh water during the nesting season, Horned Grebes migrate to salt water for the winter, and therefore are thought of as saltwater birds, but some can be found on open water in the interior of California and other western states.