Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Western Grebe - Aechmophorus occidentalis
Search Common:                 Search Scientific:
General Comments Western Grebes, and their close "cousin", the Clark's Grebe, are among the most elegant of waterbirds, being quite swan-like in appearance when fully alert on the water surface. The Western is by far the more regular of the two "siblings" in the East, and there are approximately 26 records for it in North Carolina, though a few were made prior to the split of Clark's from Western in 1985. Unlike with the other two rare grebes -- Red-necked and Eared -- which often take scrutiny with scopes to be certain of the identification, this species is usually easily identified from loons and other grebes (except Clark's). Even so, birders can "turn" a Horned Grebe or a Red-throated Loon into a Western Grebe. Westerns can be found on the inshore ocean as well as on larger reservoirs.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter visitor, with about 19 records. Very rare along the northern coast, south to Cape Hatteras (both on the ocean and at impoundments/ponds); casual to very rare southward along the coast. Only two other records for the region: one in Pamlico Sound at Swan Quarter, 28 Feb 1981; and one in the Neuse River south of New Bern (Craven), 16 Mar - 2 Apr 2011 [Chat 75:125 link]. Mainly early Dec to early Mar, with three Nov reports. Peak counts: 5 off Cape Point 4 Feb - 18 Mar 2011.
Piedmont Winter visitor. Casual, with apparently six records: 20 Dec 1961, Lake Johnson (Wake); 11-17 Nov 2001, Falls Lake; 17 Dec 2006 - mid-Mar 2007, Lake Norman; 6-22 Dec 2009, Lake Townsend (Guilford); and 10-30 Apr 2016 at Lake Norman. The sixth record involves two nearby locales where the same bird likely frequented -- Lake Norman (Mecklenburg) on 27 Dec 2021 and Coddle Creek Reservoir (Cabarrus) from 28 Dec 2021 - 7 Mar 2022. Peak counts: one at each site, though a second grebe at Lake Townsend was either a Western or a Clark's (if not a hybrid).
Mountains Accidental: one seen on Lake Julian (Buncombe) from 14-15 Dec 2002 [Chat 67:61 link].
Finding Tips This species is too rare to offer tips in North Carolina. The only tip is that, once you find one, take careful notes and submit a detailed description that not only rules out the very similar Clark's Grebe but also other grebes and loons, which some reports have failed to do!
Attribution LeGrand[2022-04-25], LeGrand[2021-05-17], LeGrand[2021-03-17]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.