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
SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding
Indirect Evidence of Breeding
No Evidence of Breeding
WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Not Regularly Observed
(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.
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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.
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- 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?
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- Additional Sources of Information Related to "Birds"