Great Crested Grebe

Podiceps cristatus

46-51cm

Appearance

This bird has a slender white neck and a pointed bill; perhaps its most notable feature is the chestnut and black frill around the head (most prominent in summer), which rises during courtship. The sexes are similar but appearance differs depending on the season. In summer it has the vivid crest, grey-brown upperparts and nape, whitish underparts, and buffish-orange flanks. There's a distinctive orange-buff border to the paler cheeks, the bill is pink and the eye is red. The bird is grey-brown with white plumage in the winter. The colourful ruff disappears but the hint of the crest remains; a black line runs from the bill to the eye. Small young have black and white stripes and juveniles resemble winter adults but with dark lines across their cheeks.

Habitat

Widespread breeding species in England, Wales and Ireland. Large lakes with plenty of fish, reservoirs, urban lakes, and flooded gravel pits are common habitats. Shallow lakes with marginal vegetation make for good breeding grounds.

Character

When flying, the neck is outstretched and the legs trail; the wings have vivid white sections. Dives often to get food, prefers to dive rather than fly if it feels threatened, and it can sometimes be seen swimming with head and neck resting on its back, showing the white breast. It has a detailed courtship display; a pair face each other and shake their heads. They then dive simultaneously and surface holding water weed, which they 'dance' with for a short period, rising out of the water. Small young often ride on parents' backs for protection, and the young birds of initial broods can help to raise young of second broods.

Food

Eats mostly fish such as roach, rudd, minnows and eels. Diet also includes aquatic insect larvae and small amphibians.

Breeding

Pairs usually form in the winter. The female lays 3-4 eggs and both adults share the job of incubation (28 days), as well as feeding the young once they hatch. The brood is then divided, each parent taking some young and living separately from each other. Young can fly at about 10-11 weeks.

Population

Autumn sees a shift of many birds to large lakes, reservoirs and the sea. There are about 5 300 adults in the UK and up to 2 500 in Ireland. Migrants from north-west Europe boost British numbers in the winter.

Observation Tips

This bird can be seen in surprisingly urban areas such as parks in the heart of London, where they can be tolerant of human observers.

Voice

Utters wails and croaks during breeding season, and a growling 'gorr, gorr'.
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