I’ve seen a couple of other Horned Grebes in the North Basin, but never an adult male in breeding plumage, like this one. It cruised in a lazy sort of way just south of the Open Circle artwork on the northeast corner of the park, and did not dive.
Its “horns” are feathers on the back of its head that it occasionally raises, as when preening; see the short video below.
The Cornell bird lab website gives these “Cool Facts” about Horned Grebes:
- Like most grebes, the small chicks of the Horned Grebe frequently ride on the backs of their swimming parents. The young ride between the wings on the parent’s back, and may even go underwater with them during dives.
- The Horned Grebe regularly eats some of its own feathers, enough that its stomach usually contains a matted plug of them. This plug may function as a filter or may hold fish bones in the stomach until they can be digested. The parents even feed feathers to their chicks to get the plug started early.
- A sleeping or resting Horned Grebe puts its neck on its back with its head off to one side and facing forward. It keeps one foot tucked up under a wing and uses the other one to maneuver in the water. Having one foot up under a wing makes it float with one “high” side and one “low” side.
- The oldest recorded Horned Grebe was at least 5 years, 11 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in the Northwest Territories in 2007, the same place where it had been banded in 2002.
The Audubon website adds that this grebe, unlike the similar Eared Grebe, tends to be solitary rather than to gather in flocks, and “has been seen foraging in association with Surf Scoters.” In fact, when I saw this grebe it was swimming within about twenty yards of the Surf Scoters I wrote up recently.
This bird remained in the same area for several days, even after the Surf Scoters had departed. Further out on the North Basin, too far for a sharp photo, a flock of at least 25 and possibly as many as 50 Western Grebes had gathered.