\ ˈgrēb How to pronounce grebe (audio) \

Definition of grebe

: any of a family (Podicipedidae) of swimming and diving birds closely related to the loons but having lobed toes — compare dabchick

Illustration of grebe

Illustration of grebe

Examples of grebe in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Birders will appreciate the flocks of waterfowl, migrating shorebirds, mallards, grebes, swallows and more. Katie Pesznecker, Anchorage Daily News, "Tackle Anchorage’s terrific city trail system," 30 May 2020 Spotted salamanders breed here and night herons roost, alongside coots and grebes. Alexis Soloski, New York Times, "Keeping a Distance, From Everything but Nature," 13 May 2020 Disgust at their grisly trade, which was eradicating millions of birds a year to meet Americans’ demand for feathery swank, surged in her like a ball of regurgitated feathers and crustaceans from a grebe’s crop. The Economist, "Lexington Companies can now get away with killing America’s birds," 20 Feb. 2020 On Plum Island, there were 16 Northern shovelers, eight red-grebes, two rough-legged hawks, and a yellow-breasted chat., "Bird sightings - The Boston Globe," 23 Dec. 2019 Perhaps 1 million years ago or more, a male grebe needed bright colors and tricky moves. Washington Post, "Birds fall in love, and they have the moves to prove it," 12 Nov. 2019 In the Andes Mountains in South America, water birds called hooded grebes have bright red eyes. Washington Post, "Birds fall in love, and they have the moves to prove it," 12 Nov. 2019 Some of these visitors will include green-winged teal, the colorful wood duck, Western and Clark’s grebes, some species of sandpiper and loons. Ernie Cowan, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Ladder-backed woodpecker is fond of the desert," 19 Sep. 2019 The separation of penguins, pelicans and ibis from flamingos and grebes (and pigeons) implies that the waterbird trait evolved independently multiple times. Sarah Lewin Frasier, Scientific American, "The Bird Family Tree Gets a Makeover," 1 Apr. 2015

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'grebe.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of grebe

1766, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for grebe

borrowed from French grèbe, going back to Middle French grebe, griaibe, a name for the bird in Franco-Provençal of Savoy, of obscure origin

Note: The noun grebe was apparently introduced into ornithological literature by Conrad gesner entry b in Historiæ Animalium Liber III. qui est de avium natura (Zürich, 1555), p. 563: "Gavia cinerea, quæ ad flumina & lacus ascendit…Hæc Italice circa Comum galedor uocatur, circa Verbanum lacum et alibi galetra, Gallis gauian uel mouette, uel glaumet, Sabaudis grebe, uel griaibe, uel beque, uel heyron, quamuis ardeæ potius id nomen conueniat." ("An ash-gray seabird, which goes up to the rivers and lakes…This [bird] is called in Italian galedor around Como, galetra around Lake Maggiore and elsewhere; [it is called] by the French gavian or mouette or glaumet, and by the Savoyards grebe or griaibe or beque or heyron, this [last] name applying rather to the heron.") Exactly the same names were reproduced in French two years later, without crediting Gesner, by the traveler and naturalist Pierre Belon (1524-64) in Portraits d'oyseaux, animaux, serpens, herbes, arbres, hommes et femmes, d'Arabie et Egypte (Paris, 1557), p. 35: "francois, Mouëtte cendrée, Gauian, Glammet [sic]. En Sauoye elle est nommée Grebe, ou Griaibe, Begue, Heyron." The bird described and illustrated by both Gesner and Belon, however, is unmistakably a seagull, probably the common gull Larus canus. Later attestations show that Gesner recorded the name more or less accurately, but assigned it to the wrong bird. The word was applied correctly in the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert, in the article grebe (vol. 7 [1757], p. 903), presumably by the naturalist Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton; this text may have been the basis for the use of the word in English. Forms of grèbe in the Franco-Provençal of Switzerland are recorded in the Glossaire des patois de la Suisse Romande (vol. 8, p. 707). Französisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (vol. 21, p. 246) also gives forms of the word in Lyon (grèpe) and Haut-Dauphiné (glẹ̄be), as well as an apparently isolated word guerbe meaning "loon" in the French dialect of Bessin, Normandy. Efforts to etymologize the Franco-Provençal word are speculative. The Glossaire suggests a possible relationship with dialectal grẹ́bo "of more than one color, variegated," itself of obscure origin.

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Last Updated

20 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Grebe.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Feb. 2021.

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More Definitions for grebe


\ ˈgrēb How to pronounce grebe (audio) \

Kids Definition of grebe

: a swimming and diving bird related to the loon

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