Grebes (family Podicipedidae, order Podicipediformes) are small to medium-sized water birds with lobed toes on legs set far back on the body. Like in the loon, this leg position is efficient for swimming but makes the bird awkward on land. They feed on fish or other aquatic life. This is an ancient group of birds, known as fossils from 80 million years ago. The family of twenty species is found on all continents except Antarctica. Many species have elaborate courtship rituals of bobbing or dancing on the water surface. Of the seven species found in North America, six are found in Saskatchewan; they are all migratory.
Grebes are typically found in the larger sloughs and permanent waters of the southern half of the province; they may nest on the shore or construct colonies of floating nests of vegetation. There are three small grebes in the province: the pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), with its brown body and small head, is distinguished by the vertical bar on its bill; the horned grebe (Podiceps auritus), with its large yellow patch at the side of the head and ruddy neck, can be seen throughout the province; and the closely allied eared grebe (P. nigricollis) has a thinner yellow patch on the cheek and a black neck.
Among the larger grebes we find the red-necked grebe (P. grisgena), which is often seen on the lakes and rivers of the centre of the province and is distinguished by the white cheek patch under the black cap as well as the rufous neck. The Western grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) and Clark's grebe (A. clarkii) are very similar in appearance, with grey bodies, long white necks and long bills. Clark's grebe has the white on the head extending above the eye, and a yellow rather than an olive-green bill. Because these last two species can be difficult to distinguish, their exact distribution in the province is not certain.