Once thought to be a pale morph of the more common western grebe, the Clark's grebe is known today to be a distinct species, and hybrids between western and Clark's grebes are much rarer than previously believed, despite the similarity in the birds' appearances.
- Bill: Long, straight, yellow or yellow-orange
- Size: 25-26 inches long with 35-inch wingspan, long neck
- Colors: Black, white, gray, yellow, red
- Markings: Genders are similar with a white face with the white color extending above the red eye. The throat, neck and cheeks are also white and contrast with the black cap and hindneck. The body is grayish black with paler sides and flanks, with a very short tail.
Fish, amphibians, aquatic insects, crustaceans
Habitat and Migration:
Clark's grebes have a wide range but are relatively uncommon. They can be found on large, open freshwater or saltwater marshes, reservoirs and lakes throughout the west, with summer populations extending as far north as the western halves of the Dakotas through Montana, southern Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Utah. In winter, the birds migrate to the Pacific Coast from southern Oregon to Baja California, with more isolated winter populations found in western Texas and eastern New Mexico. Year round populations can be found in central California and Mexico, as well as along the California-Arizona border.
These are gregarious birds when they flock together, and they use a common "kreeeek" call. Calls are more unusual with solitary birds.
The Clark's grebe is a superior swimmer and diver but can be slow and awkward on land. As opportunistic feeders they will sample many different foods but feed primarily on fish. Young grebes ride on their parents' backs and stay in position even during feeding dives. When threatened, Clark's grebes are much more likely to dive than to take flight.
These are monogamous birds that mate after an elaborate courtship display that includes "dancing" across the water and sharing reeds. A mated pair will build a floating nest and both parents will incubate the 2-6 eggs for 23-24 days. The precocial hatchlings will climb onto their parents' backs within minutes of birth, and will remain under both parents' care for 63-75 days until their first flight. Because of the long growth period, Clark's grebes raise only a single brood each year.
Attracting Clark's Grebes:
Like all aquatic birds, Clark's grebes are not backyard birds but they can be seen regularly in the appropriate habitat. Birders interested in seeing these grebes should avoid polluted and sterile waters that lack adequate food sources, as well as waters where oil spills and other contaminants have threatened Clark's grebes. When viewing these grebes, a spotting scope or high powered binoculars are useful in distinguishing them from western grebes at a distance.