Horned Grebe, plate CCLIX

Treasures of the Library

Horned Grebe, plate CCLIX

In this plate, John James Audubon captures the horned grebe’s colourful breeding plumage and startling red eyes. Each spring, this migratory bird transforms from muted shades of white and grey to striking chestnut and black. Here, Audubon depicts an adult male in breeding plumage and a young female in non-breeding grey and white feathers.

Delightfully, this bird can raise or lower the sun-kissed tuft of plumage behind the eye – its so-called horns – at will. These tufts take three weeks to reach their full size, just in time for breeding season.

The horned grebe is smaller than other water birds, but is a strong flyer. After a trip on the Ohio River, Audubon marvelled at grebes in flight, their “arriving and passing onward on wing at a considerable height in the air” . . . their “considerable velocity” . . . and how “they dive with great celerity.”*

According to a 2009 report, the horned grebe population in western Canada declined 14% over the three previous generations (or 12 years) due to loss of breeding areas.**


  • This is Plate CCLIX (or 259) in the collection.
  • It measures 52.3 cm high and 37.8 cm wide. It is printed on paper measuring 97.7 cm high and 65.3 cm wide.
  • The attribution reads: “Engraved, Printed, & Coloured by R. Havell, 1835.”
  • The plate is part of set number 52.
  • The plate refers to the original scientific or Latin name given to the horned grebe, Podiceps cornutus. The currently accepted name is Podiceps auritus.

* John James Audubon, Ornithological Biography, Or An Account of the Habits of the Birds of the United States of America: Accompanied by Descriptions of the Objects Represented in the Work Entitled The Birds of America, and Interspersed with Delineations of American Scenery and Manners, Vol. III, Adam & Charles Black, Edinburgh, 1835, pp. 429–430.

** Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus, Western population and Magdalen Islands population, in Canada, Ottawa, 2009, p. v.

Image of bird Horned Grebe
Horned Grebe, plate CCLIX