Pied-billed Grebe - Podilymbus podiceps
A small, stocky, and poorly buoyant water bird, 31 to 38 cm in length (Cramp 1977), with small, narrow wings, feet placed far back, and a blunt-ended posterior. During the non-breeding period, the bill is unmarked, the throat is white, and the white rear becomes more conspicuous. As adults, sexes are alike, whereas juveniles are distinguished by the lack of a white orbital ring, an unmarked bill, darker brown sides of the head and neck, and a whiter underbelly (Palmer 1962). Downy chicks have a striking, zebra-like pattern of black and white stripes, interspersed with reddish-brown spots, and a bare loral area (Palmer 1962, Storer 1967).
VOCALIZATIONS: During territorial defense, males emit a distinctive prolonged call, a loud "cow-cow-cow-cow-cow- cowp...cowp...cowp...
". This call is reminiscent of cuckoos (Palmer 1962), and enables communication over several hundred meters in nesting habitats dominated by dense, visually restricting vegetation. A variety of other calls are also produced during the breeding season (see Palmer 1962), but during the non-breeding season generally silent.
NEST: Build sodden, floating nests of rotting and green plant material and mud. Often anchored to growing, emergent plants. In Iowa, 138 nests averaged 38 cm in diameter (Glover 1953).
EGGS: elliptical to sub-elliptical, approx. 44.3 by 30.1 mm, smooth and nonglossy (Baicich 2005, Arnold 1989). Although white or tinted bluish or buff when laid, eggs gather a heavy, brown stain from the wet, organic matter comprising the nest.
MOLT: Molt is poorly known. Palmer (1962) noted that a complete molt into basic plumage takes place in autumn, with considerable individual variation in its timing and duration (Cramp et al. 1977). Flight feathers are lost simultaneously, prior to loss of body feathers. Complete molt takes one to two months. Basic molt and late nesting may occur simultaneously (Otto and Strohmeyer 1985). A partial molt into alternate plumage occurs in spring (Palmer 1962).
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
A short, stout, chicken-like bill with a broad, black band in the middle, large head and elongated neck, white orbital ring, black throat patch and forehead, and drab, brownish plumage throughout except for white under the tail (Palmer 1962, Cramp 1977).
Western Hemisphere Range
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
(direct evidence "B")
(indirect evidence "b")
No evidence of Breeding
(regular observations "W")
(at least one obs. "w")
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
There are no noticeable migration periods in Bozeman area, other than early and late dates (Skaar 1969).
In the fall, Bozeman area, the birds move away from marshes and into open water (Skaar 1969). It seeks similar habitat during migration and wintering, as long as it is ice free. Fresh water to moderately brackish ponds are part of its breeding area. (Muller & Storer, 1999)
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
- Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
How Associations Were Made
We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
- Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
- Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
- Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
- Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.
In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.
However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if
point observations were associated with that system.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.
The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
Suggested Uses and Limitations
Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.
These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: mtnhp.org/requests
) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.
Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.
Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.
Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).
Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.
- Adams, R.A. 2003. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 289 p.
- Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34. Missoula, MT.
- Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
- Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998. Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT. 1302 p.
- Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32. 72 p.
- Maxell, B.A. 2000. Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species. Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1. Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana. 161 p.
- Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and reptiles of Montana. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.
The Pied-billed Grebe is opportunistic. It takes what is available and will eat fish, crustaceans (especially crayfish) and aquatic insects and their larvae (Muller and Storer 1999)
Active nests seen in late April and early May. Chicks observed in July (Skaar 1969). In the Fortine area, third-grown young seen June 18, half-grown young August 6, and nearly grown young on Ninepipe NWR on July 11. A complete clutch is laid in 4 to 10 days. The hatch last 2 to 7 days after approximately 23 days of incubation. A second brood is common if nest or eggs are lost (Muller and Storer 1999)
- Literature Cited AboveLegend: View Online Publication
- Arnold, T.W. 1989. Variation in size and composition of horned and pied-billed grebe eggs. Condor 91:987-9.
- Baicich, P.J. and C.J.O. Harrison. 2005. A guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of North American birds. Second edition. Academic Press, New York.
- Cramp, S. (editor). 1977. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa: the birds of the Western Paleartic. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Oxford University Press, Oxford, England. 722 pp.
- Glover, F.A. 1953. Nesting ecology of the pied-billed grebe in Northwestern Iowa. Wilson Bull. 65:32-39.
- Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages.
- Muller, M. J., and R. W. Storer. 1999. Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps). In The birds of North America, No. 410 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and American Ornithologists’ Union.
- Otto, J.E., and D.L. Strohmeyer. 1985. Wing molt by a nesting pied-billed grebe. Wilson Bulletin 97:239-40.
- Palmer, R.S. 1962. Handbook of North American birds. Volume 1. Loons through flamingos. Yale University Press, New Haven. 567 pp.
- Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p.
- Storer, R.W. 1967. The patterns of downy grebes. Condor 69:469-78.
- Additional ReferencesLegend: View Online Publication
Do you know of a citation we're missing?
- [PRESI] Powder River Eagle Studies Incorporated. 1998b. Spring Creek Mine 1997 wildlife monitoring studies. Powder River Eagle Studies Incorporated. Gillete, WY.
- [WWPC] Washington Water Power Company. 1995. 1994 wildlife report Noxon Rapids and Cabinet Gorge Reservoirs. Washington Water Power Company. Spokane, WA.
- American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p.
- Brown, M. and J. J. Dinsmore. 1986. Implications of marsh size and isolation for marsh bird management. J. Wildl. Manage. 50:392-397.
- Dickson, D.C. 1991. Systematic wildlife observations on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Wildlife Management Area. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Missoula, MT. 14 pp. plus appendices and photographs.
- ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1977, Colstrip 10 x 20 Area wildlife and wildlife habitat annual monitoring report, 1977. Proj. 164-85-A. December 31, 1977.
- ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1979, Annual wildllife report of the Colstrip Area for 1978. Proj. 195-85-A. April 6, 1979.
- Ehrlich, P., D. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder’s handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon and Schuster Inc. New York. 785 pp.
- Faaborg, J. 1976. Habitat selection and territorial behavior of the small grebes of North Dakota. Wilson Bulletin 88:390-399.
- Forbes, M.R.L., H.P. Barkhouse, and P.C. Smith. 1989. Nest-site selection by Pied-billed Grebes Podilymbus podiceps. Ornis Scand. 20: 211-218.
- Gniadek, S. 1983. Southwest Glendive Wildlife Baseline Inventory. Miles City, Mont: Bureau of Land Management, Miles City District Office. 56 pp with appendices.
- Hand, R. L. 1969. A distributional checklist of the birds of western Montana. Unpublished. Available at Mansfield Library, University of Montana, Missoula.
- Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 539 pp.
- Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
- Kantrud, H.A. and R.E. Stewart. 1984. Ecological distribution and crude density of breeding birds on prairie wetlands. J. Wildl. Manage. 48(2): 426-437.
- Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2001: Beaverhead Gateway, Dillon, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.011. July 2002. In 2001 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. I.
- Land & Water Consulting, Inc., Missoula, MT., 2002, Montana Dept. of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Report, Year 2002: Stillwater River, Absarokee, Montana. Proj. No. 130091.032. February 2003. In 2002 Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports, Vol. II.
- Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar’s Montana bird distribution, 6th edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, MT. 144 pp.
- Matthews, W.L. 1981. Broadus-Pumpkin Creek baseline inventory - wildlife. Bureau of Land Management, Miles City, MT. 83 p.
- Maxell, B.A. 2016. Northern Goshawk surveys on the Beartooth, Ashland, and Sioux Districts of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest: 2012-2014. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 114pp.
- Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
- Mundinger, J.G. 1975. The influence of rest-rotation grazing management on waterfowl production on stock-water reservoirs in Phillips County, Montana. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 100 p.
- Powder River Eagle Studies, Inc., Gillette, WY., 1996, Spring Creek Mine 1995 Wildlife Monitoring Studies. Spring Creek Coal Company 1995-1996 Mining Annual Report. Vol. I, App. I. May 1996.
- Rundquist, V.M. 1973. Avian ecology on stock ponds in two vegetational types in north-central Montana. Ph.D. Dissertation. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 112 p.
- Salt, W.R. and J.R. Salt. 1976. The birds of Alberta. Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton, Alberta. xv + 498 pp.
- Sibley, C.G., and B. L. Monroe. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven. xxiv + 1111 pp.
- Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp.
- Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69.
- Stewart, R.E. 1975. Breeding birds of North Dakota. Tri-College Center for Environmental Studies, Fargo, North Dakota. 295 pp.
- Thunderbird Wildlife Consulting, Inc., Gillette, WY., 2003, Spring Creek Mine 2002 Wildlife Monitoring. March 2003.
- U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
- Wassink, J. 1991. Birds of the Central Rockies. Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, MT.
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- Yocom, C.F., S.W. Harris, and H.A. Hanson. 1958. Status of grebes in eastern Washington. Auk 75: 36-47.
- Additional Sources of Information Related to "Birds"