The Pied-billed Grebe is small, stocky, and short-necked. It is 31–38 centimeters (12–15 in) in length, it has a wingspan of 45–62 cm (18–24 in) and weighs 253–568 grams (8.9–20.0 oz). It is usually brown or gray in color. It has a short, blunt chicken-like bill, which in summer is encircled by a broad black band (hence the name). It is the only grebe that does not show a white wing patch in flight. The sexes are monomorphic (meaning no sexual dimorphism).
Pied-billed Grebes feed mainly on aquatic invertebrates, and also on small fish and amphibians (frogs, tadpoles). Pied-billed Grebes have been shown to eat their own feathers to aid in digestion (prevent injury from small bones).