Sungrebe Heliornis fulica

  • Order: Gruiformes
  • Family: Heliornithidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Miles K. Luo


  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the Sungrebe
eBird range map for Sungrebe

Generated from eBird observations (Year-Round, 1900-present)

Distribution in the Americas

The Sungrebe is reported from the following countries: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela.

The Sungrebe is distributed on the Atlantic slope from Tamaulipas, Mexico south to eastern Panama (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989, Stiles and Skutch 1989, Howell and Webb 1995, Williams et al. 2009). On the Pacific slope, it occurs in Chiapas, southern Mexico, and in Guatemala (Howell and Webb 1995), and in southern Costa Rica (Stiles and Skutch 1989). West of the Andes in Colombia (Hilty and Brown 1986) and Ecuador, south to the province of Guayas (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001). In Colombia also occurs in the Cauca valley and in the upper Patía valley (Hilty and Brown 1986). The Sungrebe is more widespread east of the Andes, south to southern Bolivia, southeastern Paraguay, and northeastern Argentina, and central coastal Brazil.

Rare visitor to Trinidad (ffrench 1991). Also one recent record (photographed) from New Mexico, United States (Williams et al. 2009).

The Sungrebe is restricted to the lowlands; the upper distributional limit is 200 m in Mexico (Howell and Webb 1995), 500 m in Colombia (Hilty and Brown 1986), and 400 m in Ecuador (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001). Occasionally reported at much higher elevations, however, such as 2600 m in Colombia (Sabana de Bogotá; Hilty and Brown 1986) and even 3600 m in Venezuela (Laguna Mucubají; Hilty 2003).

Distribution outside the Americas

Endemic to the Americas.


An aquatic species, preferring sites with vegetation overhanging the water, including  streams, mangrove swamps, ponds, and lagoons. Even will occupy water-filled  broad trenches of coffee plantations (Haverschmidt 1968).

Historical changes

The distribution of the Sungrebe appears to be expanding in northeastern Mexico (reviewed in Williams et al. 2009). Historically it known only as far north as central Veracruz, but was discovered in San Luis Potosí in the 1940s. Although this perhaps represents only the recent discovery of a long-established population, the expansion of the Sungrebe farther north into Tamaulipas is better documented.

Fossil history

The distal end of a humerus was recovered from the Lee Creek Mine in North Carolina and identified as a Heliornis, indistinguishable from modern Heliornis fulica. This is the first fossil record for the family Heliornithidae. The fossil was determined to come from the Middle Miocene (14 million years ago) Pungo River Formation, which implies that Sungrebes did not spread into South America until the Panamanian isthmian land connection. This further suggests that heliornithids spread from the Old World to the New World through the Northern Hemisphere in the Paleogene Period (Olson 2003).

Recommended Citation

Luo, M. K. (2010). Sungrebe (Heliornis fulica), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.