Grebes () are aquatic diving birds in the
order Order or ORDER or Orders may refer to: * Orderliness Orderliness is associated with other qualities such as cleanliness Cleanliness is both the abstract state of being clean and free from germs, dirt, trash, or waste, and the habit of achieving a ...
Podicipediformes . Grebes are widely distributed birds of freshwater, with some species also occurring in
marine Marine is an adjective meaning of or pertaining to the sea or ocean The ocean (also the sea or the world ocean) is the body of salt water which covers approximately 71% of the surface of the Earth.
habitats during
migration Migration, migratory, or migrate may refer to: Human migration * Human migration, physical movement by humans from one region to another ** International migration, when peoples cross state boundaries and stay in the host state for some minimum len ...
and winter. The order contains a single
family In , family (from la, familia) is a of people related either by (by recognized birth) or (by marriage or other relationship). The purpose of families is to maintain the well-being of its members and of society. Ideally, families would off ...
, the Podicipedidae, which includes 22
species In biology, a species is the basic unit of biological classification, classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individu ...

in six extant
genera Genus /ˈdʒiː.nəs/ (plural genera /ˈdʒen.ər.ə/) is a taxonomic rank Taxonomy (general) is the practice and science of classification of things or concepts, including the principles that underlie such classification. The term may also ref ...


Grebes are small to medium-large in size, have lobed toes, and are excellent swimmers and divers. Although they can run for a short distance, they are prone to falling over, since they have their feet placed far back on the body. Grebes have narrow wings, and some species are reluctant to fly; indeed, two
South America South America is a entirely in the and mostly in the , with a relatively small portion in the . It can also be described as the southern of a single continent called (see the ). The reference to South America instead of other cultural ...

South America
n species are completely flightless. They respond to danger by diving rather than flying, and are in any case much less wary than
duck Duck is the common name for numerous species of waterfowl Anseriformes is an order of bird Birds are a group of warm-blooded vertebrates constituting the class (biology), class Aves , characterised by feathers, toothless beaked ja ...

s. Extant species range in size from the
least grebe The least grebe (''Tachybaptus dominicus''), an aquatic bird A water bird, alternatively waterbird or aquatic bird, is a bird that lives on or around water. In some definitions, the term ''water bird'' is especially applied to birds in freshwate ...

least grebe
, at 120 grams (4.3 oz) and 23.5 cm (9.3 inches), to the great grebe, at 1.7 kg (3.8 lbs) and 71 cm (28 inches). The
North America North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere. It can also be described as the northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to ...

North America
n and
Eurasia Eurasia () is the largest continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as contin ...

n species are all, of necessity, migratory over much or all of their ranges, and those species that winter at sea are also seen regularly in flight. Even the small freshwater
pied-billed grebe The pied-billed grebe (''Podilymbus podiceps'') is a species In biology Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their anatomy, physical structure, Biochemistry, chemical processes, Molecular biol ...

pied-billed grebe
of North America has occurred as a transatlantic
vagrant Vagrancy is the condition of homelessness Homelessness is lacking stable and appropriate housing. People can be categorized as homeless if they are: living on the streets (primary homelessness); moving between temporary shelters, includin ...
to Europe on more than 30 occasions. Bills vary from short and thick to long and pointed, depending on the diet, which ranges from fish to freshwater insects and crustaceans. The feet are always large, with broad lobes on the toes and small webs connecting the front three toes. The hind toe also has a small lobe. Recent experimental work has shown that these lobes work like the
hydrofoil A hydrofoil is a lifting surface, or foil (fluid mechanics), foil, that operates in water. They are similar in appearance and purpose to aerofoils used by aeroplanes. Boats that use hydrofoil technology are also simply termed hydrofoils. As a hyd ...

blades of a propeller. Curiously, the same mechanism apparently
evolved Evolution is change in the heritable Heredity, also called inheritance or biological inheritance, is the passing on of Phenotypic trait, traits from parents to their offspring; either through asexual reproduction or sexual reproduction, ...

independently in the extinct
Cretaceous The Cretaceous ( ) is a geological period A geological period is one of the several subdivisions of geologic time enabling cross-referencing of rocks and geologic events from place to place. These periods form elements of a hierarchy of divisions ...

Hesperornithiformes Hesperornithes is an extinct and highly specialized group of aquatic avialans closely related to the ancestors of modern bird Birds are a group of warm-blooded vertebrates constituting the class (biology), class Aves , characterised by f ...
, which are totally unrelated birds. Grebes have unusual feather, plumage. It is dense and waterproof, and on the underside the feathers are at right-angles to the skin, sticking straight out to begin with and curling at the tip. By pressing their feathers against the body, grebes can adjust their buoyancy. Often, they swim low in the water with just the head and neck exposed. They swim by simultaneously spreading out the feet and bring them inward with the webbing expanded to produce the forward thrust in much the same way as frogs. In the non-breeding season, grebes are plain-coloured in dark browns and whites. However, most have ornate and distinctive breeding plumages, often developing chestnut markings on the head area, and perform elaborate display rituals. The young, particularly those of the genus ''Podiceps'', are often striped and retain some of their juvenile plumage even after reaching full size. In the breeding season, they mate at freshwater lakes and ponds, but some species spend their non-breeding season along seacoasts. When preening, grebes eat their own feathers, and feed them to their young. The function of this behaviour is uncertain but it is believed to assist with pellet formation, and to reduce their vulnerability to gastric parasites. Grebes make Bird nest#Platform, floating nests of plant material concealed among reeds on the surface of the water. The young are precocial, and able to swim from birth.

Taxonomy, systematics and evolution

The grebes are a radically distinct group of birds as regards their anatomy. Accordingly, they were at first believed to be related to the loons, which are also foot-propelled diving birds, and both families were once classified together under the order Colymbiformes. However, as early as the 1930s, this was determined to be an example of convergent evolution by the strong Selection (biology), selective forces encountered by unrelated birds sharing the same lifestyle at different times and in different habitat. Grebes and loons are now separately classified orders of Podicipediformes and Gaviiformes, respectively. The cladistics vs. phenetics debate of the mid-20th century revived scientific interest in generalizing comparisons. As a consequence, the discredited grebe-loon link was discussed again. This even went as far as proposing monophyly for grebes, loons, and the toothed
Hesperornithiformes Hesperornithes is an extinct and highly specialized group of aquatic avialans closely related to the ancestors of modern bird Birds are a group of warm-blooded vertebrates constituting the class (biology), class Aves , characterised by f ...
. In retrospect, the scientific value of the debate lies more in providing examples that a cladistic ''methodology'' is not incompatible with an overall phenetical scientific ''doctrine'', and that thus, simply because some study "uses cladistics", it does not guarantee superior results. Molecular studies such as DNA-DNA hybridization (Sibley & Ahlquist, 1990) and DNA sequence, sequence analyses fail to resolve the relationships of grebes properly due to insufficient resolution in the former and long-branch attraction in the latter. Still – actually ''because'' of this – they do confirm that these birds form a fairly ancient evolutionary lineage (or possibly one that was subject to selective pressures down to the molecular level even), and they support the ''non-''relatedness of loons and grebes. The most comprehensive study of bird phylogenomics, published in 2014, found that grebes and flamingos are members of Columbea, a clade that also includes doves, sandgrouse, and mesites.

Relationship with flamingos

Recent molecular studies have suggested a relation with flamingos while morphological evidence also strongly supports a relationship between flamingos and grebes. They hold at least eleven morphological traits in common, which are not found in other birds. Many of these characteristics have been previously identified in flamingos, but not in grebes. The fossil Palaelodidae, Palaelodids can be considered evolutionarily, and ecologically, intermediate between flamingos and grebes. For the grebe-flamingo clade, the taxon Mirandornithes ("miraculous birds" due to their extreme divergence and apomorphies) has been proposed. Alternatively, they could be placed in one order, with Phoenocopteriformes taking priority.

Fossil grebes

The fossil record of grebes is incomplete; there are no transitional forms between more conventional birds and the highly derived grebes known from fossils, or at least none that can be placed in the relationships of the group with any certainty. The enigmatic waterbird genus ''Juncitarsus'', however, may be close to a common ancestor of flamingos and grebes. The Early Cretaceous (Berriasian, around 143 mya (unit), mya) genus ''Eurolimnornis'' from NW Romania was initially believed to be a grebe. If it is indeed related to this lineage, it must represent a most Basal (phylogenetics), basal form, as it almost certainly predates any grebe-flamingo split. On the other hand, the single bone fragment assigned to this taxon is not very diagnostic and may not be of a bird at all. ''Telmatornis'' from the Navesink Formation – also Late Cretaceous – is traditionally allied with the Charadriiformes and/or Gruiformes. However, a cladistic analysis of the forelimb skeleton found it highly similar to the great crested grebe and unlike the painted buttonquail (now known to be a basal (evolution), basal charadriiform lineage), the black-necked stilt (a more advanced charadriiform), or the limpkin (a member of the Grui suborder of Gruiformes), namely in that its dorsal condyle of the humerus was not angled at 20°–30° away from long axis of the humerus. The analysis did not result in a phylogenetic pattern but rather grouped some birds with similar wing shapes together while others stood separate. It is thus unknown whether this apparent similarity to grebes represents an evolutionary relationship, or whether ''Telmatornis'' simply had a wing similar to that of grebes and moved it like they do. True grebes suddenly appear in the fossil record in the Late Oligocene or Early Miocene, around 23–25 mya (unit), mya. While there are a few prehistoric genera that are now completely extinct; ''Thiornis'' (Late Miocene –? Early Pliocene of Libros, Spain) and ''Pliolymbus'' (Late Pliocene of WC USA – Early? Pleistocene of Chapala, Mexico) date from a time when most if not all extant genera were already present. Because grebes are evolutionarily isolated and they only started to appear in the Northern Hemisphere fossil record in the Early Miocene, they are likely to have originated in the Southern Hemisphere. A few more recent grebe fossils could not be assigned to modern or prehistoric genera: *Podicipedidae gen. et sp. indet. (San Diego Late Pliocene of California) – formerly included in ''Podiceps parvus'' *Podicipedidae gen. et sp. indet. UMMP 49592, 52261, 51848, 52276, KUVP 4484 (Late Pliocene of WC USA) *Podicipedidae gen. et sp. indet. (Glenns Ferry Late Pliocene/Early Pleistocene of Idaho, USA)


Living Podicipediformes based on the work by John Boyd.


Compiled from the following websites: Extinct species assignment follows the Mikko's Phylogeny Archive and websites. and subspecies names from ''English Names of Birds''. * Genus †''Miobaptus'' Švec 1982 ** †''Miobaptus huzhiricus, M. huzhiricus'' Zelenkov 2015 ** †''Miobaptus walteri, M. walteri'' Švec 1982 [''Podiceps walteri'' (Švec 1984) Mlíkovský 2000] * Genus †''Miodytes'' Dimitreijevich, Gál & Kessler 2002 ** †''Miodytes serbicus'' Dimitreijevich, Gál & Kessler 2002 * Genus †''Pliolymbus'' Murray 1967 [''Piliolymbus'' (sic)] ** †''Pliolymbus baryosteus'' Murray 1967 * Genus †''Thiornis'' Navás 1922 ** †''Thiornis sociata'' Navás 1922 [''Podiceps sociatus'' (Navás 1922) Olson 1995] * Genus ''Podilymbus'' Lesson 1831 ** †''P. mujusculus'' Murray 1967 ** †''P. wetmorei'' Storer 1976 ** †Atitlán grebe, ''Podilymbus gigas'' Griscom 1929 (extinct 1989) ** Pied-billed grebe, ''Podilymbus podiceps'' (Linnaeus 1758) *** †''P. p. magnus'' *** ''P. p. antillarum'' Bangs 1913 (Antillean pied-billed grebe) *** ''P. p. podiceps'' (Linnaeus 1758) (northern pied-billed grebe) *** ''P. p. antarcticus'' (Lesson 1842) (southern pied-billed grebe) * Genus ''Tachybaptus'' Reichenbach 1853 [''Poliocephalus'' (''Tachybaptus'') Reichenbach 1853; ''Sylbeocyclus'' Macgillivray 1842 non Bonaparte 1831; ''Limnodytes'' Oberholser 1974] ** Little grebe, ''Tachybaptus ruficollis'' (Pallas 1764) *** ''T. r. ruficollis'' (Pallas 1764) (European little grebe) *** ''T. r. albescens'' (Blanford 1877) (Indian little grebe) *** ''T. r. iraquensis'' (Ticehurst 1923) (Iraq little grebe) *** ''T. r. capensis'' (Salvadori 1884) (African little grebe) *** ''T. r. poggei'' (Reichenow 1902) *** ''T. r. philippensis'' (Bonnaterre 1790) (Philippine little grebe) *** ''T. r. cotabato'' (Rand 1948) (Mindanao little grebe) ** Tricolored grebe, ''Tachybaptus tricolor'' (Gray 1861) *** ''T. t. vulcanorum'' (Rensch 1929) *** ''T. t. tricolor'' (Gray 1861) *** ''T. t. collaris'' (Mayr 1945) ** Australasian grebe ''Tachybaptus novaehollandiae'' (Stephens 1826) *** ''T. n. javanicus'' (Mayr 1943) *** ''T. n. fumosus'' (Mayr 1943) *** ''T. n. incola'' (Mayr 1943) *** ''T. n. novaehollandiae'' (Stephens 1826) (Australian little grebe) *** ''T. n. leucosternos'' (Mayr 1931) *** ''T. n. rennellianus'' (Mayr 1943) ** Madagascar grebe, ''Tachybaptus pelzelnii'' (Hartlaub 1861) ** †Alaotra grebe, ''Tachybaptus rufolavatus'' (Delacour 1932) (extinct 2010) ** Least grebe, ''Tachybaptus dominicus'' (Linnaeus 1766) *** ''T. d. brachypterus'' (Chapman 1899) (Mexican least grebe) *** ''T. d. bangsi'' (van Rossem & Hachisuka 1937)] (Bangs' grebe) *** ''T. d. dominicus'' (Linnaeus 1766) (West Indian grebe) *** ''T. d. brachyrhynchus'' (Chapman 1899) (short-billed grebe) *** ''T. d. eisenmanni'' Storer & Getty 1985 * Genus ''Poliocephalus (bird), Poliocephalus'' Selby 1840 (Hoary-headed Grebe) ** Hoary-headed grebe, ''Poliocephalus poliocephalus'' (Jardine & Selby 1827) ** New Zealand grebe, ''Poliocephalus rufopectus'' (Gray 1843) * Genus ''Aechmophorus'' Coues 1862) ** †''Aechmophorus elasson, A. elasson'' Murray 1967 ** Western grebe, ''Aechmophorus occidentalis'' (Lawrence 1858) *** ''A. o. ephemeralis'' Dickerman 1986 *** ''A. o. occidentalis'' (Lawrence 1858) ** Clark's grebe, ''Aechmophorus clarkii'' (Lawrence 1858) *** ''A. c. clarkii'' (Lawrence 1858) *** ''A. c. transitionalis'' Dickerman 1986 * Genus ''Podicephorus'' Bochenski 1994 ** Great grebe, ''Podicephorus major'' (Boddaert 1783) Bochenski 1994 *** ''P. m. major'' (Boddaert 1783) *** ''P. m. navasi'' Manghi 1984 * Genus ''Podiceps'' Latham 1787 [''Pliodytes'' Brodkorb 1953; ''Dyas''; ''Lophaithyia'' Kaup 1829; ''Colymbus'' Linnaeus 1758 non Linnaeus 1766 non Paetel 1875 non Hadding 1913; ''Podiceps'' (''Proctopus'') Kaup.; ''Centropelma'' Sclater & Salvin 1869; ''Dytes'' Kaup.; ''Rollandia (bird), Rollandia'' Bonaparte, 1856] ** †''Podiceps oligocaenus, P. oligocaenus'' (Shufeldt 1915) ** †''Podiceps arndti, P. arndti'' Chandler 1990 ** †''Podiceps caspicus, P. caspicus'' (Habizl 1783) [''Colymbus caspicus'' Habizl 1783] ** †''Podiceps csarnotatus, P. csarnotatus'' Kessler 2009 ** †''Podiceps discors, P. discors'' Murray 1967 ** †''Podiceps dixi, P. dixi'' Brodkorp 1963 ** †''Podiceps miocenicus, P. miocenicus'' Kessler 1984 ** †''Podiceps oligocaenus, P. oligocaenus'' (Shufeldt) ** †''Podiceps parvus, P. parvus'' (Shufeldt 1913)) [''Colymbus parvus'' Schufeldt 1913] ** †''Podiceps solidus, P. solidus'' Kuročkin 1985 ** †''Podiceps subparvus, P. subparvus'' (Miller & Bowman 1958) [''Colymbus subparvus'' Miller & Bowman 1958] ** White-tufted grebe, ''Podiceps rolland'' Quoy & Gaimard 1824 *** ''P. r. rolland'' Quoy & Gaimard 1824 (Falkland white-tufted Grebe) *** ''P. r. chilensis'' Lesson 1828 (Chilean white-tufted Grebe) *** ''P. r. morrisoni'' Simmons 1962 (Junín white-tufted grebe) ** Titicaca grebe, ''Podiceps microptera'' Gould 1868 ** Red-necked grebe, ''Podiceps grisegena'' (Boddaert 1783) *** ''P. g. grisegena'' (Boddaert 1783) (gray-cheeked grebe) *** ''P. g. holbollii'' Reinhardt 1853 (Holbøll's grebe) ** Great crested grebe, ''Podiceps cristatus'' (Linnaeus 1758) *** ''P. c. cristatus'' (Linnaeus 1758) (Eurasian great crested grebe) *** ''P. c. infuscatus'' Salvadori 1884 (African great crested grebe) *** ''P. c. australis'' Gould 1844 (Australasian great crested grebe) ** Horned grebe or Slavonian grebe, ''Podiceps auritus'' (Linnaeus 1758) *** ''P. a. auritus'' (Linnaeus 1758) (Eurasian Horned Grebe) *** ''P. a. cornutus'' (Gmelin 1789) ** Black-necked grebe or eared grebe, ''Podiceps nigricollis'' Brehm 1831 *** ''P. n. nigricollis'' Brehm 1831 (Eurasian Black-necked Grebe) *** ''P. n. gurneyi'' (Roberts 1919) (African black-necked grebe) ** †Colombian grebe, ''Podiceps andinus'' (Meyer de Schauensee 1959) (extinct 1977) ** Silvery grebe, ''Podiceps occipitalis'' Garnot 1826 *** ''P. o. juninensis'' von Berlepsch & Stolzmann 1894 (northern silvery grebe) *** ''P. o. occipitalis'' Garnot 1826 (Southern silvery Grebe) ** Junin grebe, ''Podiceps taczanowskii'' von Berlepsch & Stolzmann 1894 ** Hooded grebe, ''Podiceps gallardoi'' Rumboll 1974 ** North-American Eared grebe, ''Podiceps californicus'' Heermann 1854

See also

*List of Podicipediformes by population


Further reading

*Konter, André (2001): ''Grebes of our world: visiting all species on 5 continents''. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. *Malcolm Ogilvie, Ogilvie, Malcolm & Rose, Chris (2003): ''Grebes of the World''. Bruce Coleman Books, Uxbridge, England. *Charles Sibley, Sibley, Charles Gald & Monroe, Burt L. Jr. (1990): ''Distribution and taxonomy of the birds of the world: A Study in Molecular Evolution''. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

External links

Grebe videos and photos
on the Internet Bird Collection
Tree of Life Grebes
Grebes clip-art''Diving Birds of North America''
by Paul Johnsgard
Grebes Walk on Water
Documentary produced by Oregon Field Guide
Grebe Vocalization - The Songs of The Grebes
* {{Authority control Podicipedidae Podicipediformes Diving animals Extant Chattian first appearances Taxa named by Charles Lucien Bonaparte