Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Horned Grebe - Podiceps auritus
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General Comments Of our waterbirds, the Horned Grebe has showed one of the more alarming declines over the past few decades, probably owing mainly to a decline in its prairie pothole breeding habitat. Prior to about 1990, this was a fairly common to often common wintering species along coastal bays and inshore ocean, and at times abundant in early spring. Now (the 2020's), it is typically only fairly common at best, and it can be "miss-able" on coastal CBC's, though usually a few are found. Likewise, numbers inland are less than formerly, though the decline there does not seem as severe as in coastal waters. Horned Grebes are not partial to water salinity; they can be seen in winter and migration on the inshore ocean, on bays and estuaries, and also on fresh water lakes and impoundments (though preferring the larger bodies of water).
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S4N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident and migrant. Generally uncommon to fairly common, along the coast and in the Tidewater zone (both on fresh and brackish waters). Numbers increase in late winter (Feb-Mar), when it can be common at times in these areas. Formerly, often very common at times. Most numerous on Pamlico Sound, close to Swan Quarter. Farther inland, generally uncommon and local, on larger lakes and reservoirs. Primarily early Nov into early May; a few all year. Peak counts: 6,000 at Nags Head, 3 Feb 1972. A count of 10,000 in Pamlico Sound, 21 Dec 1980 - 21 Mar 1981 unfortunately does not provide for a daily high count.
Piedmont Winter resident and migrant. Uncommon and local, to locally common, mainly on the larger lakes -- e.g., Norman, Falls, Jordan, Kerr, and Roanoke Rapids. Very rare to rare in counties that lack large lakes. At times can be fairly common to common in late winter on larger lakes. Mainly early Nov to late Mar. One in breeding plumage at Lake Hickory (Alexander/Catawba) was very early on 7 Aug 2015. Peak counts: 320, Jordan Lake, 24 Dec 2023; 220, Jordan Lake, 27 Feb 1999; 186, Lake Norman, 9 Mar 2014; 180, Lake Norman, during the winter of 1989 - 1990; 172, Jordan Lake CBC, 5 Jan 2014. A tally of 287 on the Kerr Lake CBC, 5 Jan 2010 might well have included many birds from the Virginia side of the lake.
Mountains Winter visitor and migrant. Does not winter regularly in the region. Rare to occasionally and briefly uncommon in fall and spring -- mainly Nov, and Feb - Apr; very rare to rare in midwinter. Suitable habitat is quite limited. Peak counts: 50, Lake Julian (Buncombe), 9 Mar 2012; 25, Lake Julian, 1 Dec 2015; 18, Lake Julian, 30 Nov 2010.
Finding Tips The Horned Grebe can now be missed on a day of birding along the coast in winter, though there are usually a few scattered individuals in the ocean, where they can be easily overlooked without a scope. Also look for them in estuaries and sounds. It is still easily found, often in numbers of several hundred, from the Swan Quarter - Ocracoke ferry, near the Swan Quarter side. Numbers build up in late winter, and you can often find several hundred on the ocean in late Feb and Mar, with the beaches off the northern coast being favored. Inland, look for the birds on the widest portion of the large reservoirs, with Lake Norman and Jordan Lake being good; Falls, Roanoke Rapids, and a few other lakes also host a handful throughout the winter as well.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-09], LeGrand[2023-03-02], LeGrand[2016-09-28]
NC Map
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