- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding species and migrant; regular during the winter months at scattered open-water sites in central and southeastern Minnesota. A common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Found throughout the Western Hemisphere, in North America the Pied-billed Grebe is widely distributed across Canada and the United States. Birds that breed in the northern regions migrate south when temperatures drop and water basins freeze over; birds that breed farther south are year-round residents. The core of the species’ breeding range is in the Prairie Pothole Region of the northern Great Plains states and the Prairie Provinces of central Canada (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 8/20 by Partners in Flight and designated a species of High Concern by the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan.
Resident to short-distance migrant; birds in the northern regions, including Minnesota, usually migrate to the southern United States and northern Central America.
A diver whose diet consists largely of aquatic prey including small frogs, fish, snails, crayfish, and insects.
A floating platform constructed with aquatic vegetation and usually anchored to floating vegetation.
A common resident on many of Minnesota’s lakes and wetlands, Roberts’s account of the species in 1932 described the Pied-billed Grebe as an “abundant summer resident, breeding throughout the state wherever there are suitable water and marsh conditions.” He noted it was less common in the northeastern region, where shallow wetlands were replaced by “rock-bound lakes and rivers.” Unlike others of Minnesota’s diverse and abundant community of waterfowl species, the little Pied-billed Grebe seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the cadre of observers providing Roberts with frequent accounts of the distribution and abundance of waterfowl in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Nevertheless, the species was likely far more abundant in earlier times, prior to the loss of nearly 50% of Minnesota’s wetlands. Despite the species’ abundance and widespread distribution, Roberts compiled confirmed nesting records from just 7 counties that he and his colleagues frequently visited: Hennepin, Isanti, Jackson, Kittson, Marshall, Polk, and Stearns.
Forty years later, Green and Janssen (1975) described the species as a summer resident throughout the state. The exception, as in Roberts’s time, was the Arrowhead region, where its preferred marshland habitat was far less common. Janssen (1987) described it as a casual breeder in these northeastern counties and identified 57 counties across the state where breeding had been confirmed since 1970. Later Hertzel and Janssen (1998) added another 7 counties to that list.
Survey work conducted by the Minnesota Biological Survey identified 357 breeding season locations for the Pied-billed Grebe. The species was common throughout much of western Minnesota, but records were particularly scarce in the southeastern counties and in the northeast.
During the MNBBA, observers reported Pied-billed Grebes in 15.0% (716/4,769) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 16.4% (384/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in 190 blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The birds were reported from 85 of Minnesota’s 87 counties, absent only from Rock and Dodge Counties. Breeding evidence was gathered in 65 counties, including 1 record in far northeastern Cook County. Fourteen of the counties were additions to the list published by Hertzel and Janssen (1998).
Although there is no barometer of its former abundance in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Pied-billed Grebe’s current breeding range appears remarkably similar to that described by earlier accounts. The core of its distribution is in central Minnesota, from Dakota and Washington Counties in the east, to Big Stone and Lac qui Parle Counties in the west, a region where productive shallow lake basins are prevalent. It remains scarce in the far northeast and north-central counties, particularly in Cook, Lake, and Koochiching counties, as well as in the far southeastern corner of the state. Elsewhere in its breeding range, there have been few major changes in the species’ overall distribution other than local responses to the loss of wetland habitat (Muller and Storer 1999).
One of five grebe species found in Minnesota during the MNBBA, the Pied-billed Grebe is the most widely distributed and most common. Nearly 3 of every 4 grebes observed during the MNBBA were Pied-billed Grebes.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.