As a transient, statewide; as a winter resident, southern Missouri
The horned grebe is a small, dark, ducklike bird. We are most likely to see them in winter plumage, though breeding plumage may be visible in spring. Grebes have unique feet, with flaplike lobes along the toes instead of being webbed like those of ducks. Horned grebes are not usually seen in flight or on land. They stop in the Show-Me State to rest and forage on large reservoirs and deep rivers, and winter on unfrozen lakes. Like other grebes, they are accomplished swimmers. To escape danger, horned grebes dive below the water surface.
People once persecuted horned grebes, thinking they killed fish populations. Thanks to scientific research and studies, it was found they have little impact on fish populations. Grebes were historically overhunted for their feathers, which had marketvalue as hat decorations.
Horned grebe populations have been declining significantly in recent decades. Researchers suspect habitat loss and disturbance, oil spills, wetland draining, forest cutting near breeding territories, and more. Their breeding territory to the north is shrinking, and climate change over the next century may reduce it much more.
Horned grebes dive below the surface of the water to capture crayfish, aquatic insects, small fish, and other small aquatic animals.
Horned grebes are present in Missouri from late September through mid-April, but peak during migration, in March and November. They breed in central and western Canada and Alaska. Nests are typically built in shallow freshwater ponds and wetlands on a floating raft of vegetation. Females have one to two broods each year, comprised of three to eight eggs, which are incubated in 22–25 days.
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