Annotated checklist and data resource
text © Don Roberson
photos copyrighted by photographer(s) credited
all photos taken in Monterey County, California
Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena
This Holarctic grebe is a scarce winter visitor along the coast of Monterey County (MTY). We are near the southern edge of its wintering range and only a few are found each winter. Most arrive in late October or November and remain to March or April. The individual shown (above) was digiscoped in the channel between the two jetties at Moss Landing harbor on 20 Nov 2004. This is one of the few regular spots to look for this species in MTY and also one of the few where you can get close views; otherwise, this grebes is rather shy and hard to approach. This seems to be a first-year individual with browner plumage than winter adults (note thin reddish tips to back feathers that help to age this bird), and Rita and I were surprised by its very bright yellow bill and bright yellow eye.

Note the extensively dark neck, the dark fact, and the 'hook-back' pattern where the white throat and upper neck hooks back toward the eye above the darker auriculars (especially in the right-hand photo, above). This pattern is discussed in European field guides (e.g., Mullarney et al. 1999). Photos above © D. Roberson

In contrast, the first arriving adults in late autumn may retain portions of breeding plumage (left; this one digiscoped in Monterey harbor 15 Nov 2004; © D. Roberson). The neck is still quite red, the cheeks white and the crown black, and the bill still yellow. This bill color, and the alternate plumage, will soon be lost. However, the grebes that are still around very late in the winter especially in April or early May are often well into full alternate plumage before they depart. Some of these may be migrants that wintered a bit farther south.
In winter both adults and youngsters acquire basic (=winter) plumage that is much more gray and white in tone (two photos below). Contrasting white cheeks are often (but not always) present (e.g., Palmer 1962, Cramp & Simmons 1977). Bill color becomes much duller: pale gray or ivory. The bill is medium in heft: not short or thin like the smaller Eared or Horned Grebes, but not as long and dagger-like as the larger Aechmophorus grebes.

Photo Feb 1987 Moss Landing © Robert F. Tintle 

   Photo 20 Jan 2003 Monterey © Don Roberson
Where to find a Red-necked Grebe in MTY: This medium-sized grebe is very much a winter bird of inshore salt water. In fact, there are still no record on fresh water anywhere in the county. Favored locales are:
  • Moss Landing harbor, especially in the channel or just offshore of the jetties
  • Monterey harbor, sometimes in the harbor but more often just offshore the Coast Guard pier or off the tip of the Commercial Wharf (Wharf #2, the one you can drive on and park in the metered slots). 
  • Just offshore the sandy beaches from Ft. Ord to Seaside; scope from the big cross just south of Monterey Beach Hotel, or from the dead-end roads that end at the ocean just north of the hotel.
  • Occasionally elsewhere just offshore, such as Lovers Pt. in Pacific Grove or Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach
At any of these sites, a scope is needed because this grebe is shy and usually stays several hundreds yards offshore. There are "good" winters (for example, 55 were recorded on the 1969 Christmas Bird Count) and "bad" winters sometimes there are just a handful around (e.g., only 1 on 1992 Monterey Peninsula CBC). The recent average for the Monterey Peninsula count is 13 Red-necked Grebes; the recent average on the Moss Landing count is 4 birds. It can often take a fair bit of work to sort through all the other grebes, loons, scoters, and gulls to find this specialty.
* = "recent averages" for Christmas Bird Counts are found by compiling the totals reported for last dozen counts, throwing out the high and low counts that may be biased by observer error or bad weather, and averaging the remaining ten counts.
Go back to
Eared Grebe
Literature cited: Use the following links to other portions of the MTY checklist:
Part 1: Waterfowl through Grebes
Part 2: Albatrosses through Frigatebirds
Part 3: Herons through Cranes
Part 4: Plovers through Sandpipers
Part 5: Jaegers through Alcids
Part 6: Doves through Woodpeckers
Part 7: Flycatchers through Larks
Part 8: Swallows through Pipits
Part 9: Waxwings through Warblers
Part 10: Tanagers through Sparrows
Part 11: Grosbeaks through Finches
or just the plain Checklist (no annotations)
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Page created 22 Nov 2004