Great Crested Grebe: Bird of the week

The Great Crested Grebe Has Come Back From Near Extinction In The UK And Has One Of The Most Enchanting Mating Rituals Of Any Bird Monday, 12 March

By Kieren Puffett

This elegant wader is Europe’s largest grebe species and can be found from Britain to Russia. Males and females look similar but have different plumage depending on the season. In winter, their feathers are pale grey and white. They turn dark brown in the summer and have a dark crest and impressive orange ruff around their neck which puffs up during their elaborate courtship ritual.

Great crested grebes were once persecuted for their feathers; during the Victorian period their head plumes were used to decorate hats whilst their soft feathery skins were used instead of fur for boas. Where once the bird was widely distributed through central and eastern England, the population was devastated and by 1860 only 50 pairs remained.

Following excellent conservation measures, numbers have jumped up to around five thousand pairs. These birds can now be found throughout the UK and on open waterways where they dive for fish and invertebrates. February marks the start of the breeding season and it’s the perfect time to see the males and females courting each other for what is a captivating sight.

One bird approaches the other underwater, emerging suddenly by its side. Mutual head-shaking follows, then the birds mimic each other by bobbing their heads up and down. They then swim apart and together in an aquatic dance, heads low to the water. The crescendo sees the pair rear up out of the water, bellies touching, with a gift of weed in their beaks shaking their heads side-to-side. The stripy chicks are carried on the backs of their parents after hatching.

Related: Watch Hooded Grebes Dancing In Patagonia