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Great crested grebe

What am I?

The largest and most common member of the grebe family in Europe. Grebes are diving aquatic birds who hunt under water for small fish and invertebrates. They are most often found on rivers, lakes and reservoirs and make nesting platforms out of weeds. The UK has around 5,000 breeding pairs and close to 20,000 overwintering individuals. Photo Credit: John Parish. 

How to spot them

Great crested grebes are very distinctive birds. They are larger than mallards and coots, have a long, elegant neck with orange ruff around it in breeding season, and a black plume on their narrow heads. Their body is buff below and dark on the top, with legs placed far back, making them clumsy on land. They are famous for their dance like courtship display  In winter, they often gather offshore in large flocks and can be confused with other divers.  

Where to see them

Flocks can be seen resting and diving in Canvey Wick, the Stour and Orwell estuaries, and around the Dengie peninsula in the winter months Breeding pairs can be found primarily on reed bordered lakes, rivers and reservoirs such as Abberton, carrying their young on their backs later in the season.  

Conservation status

The great crested grebe is green listed in the UK. 

Did you know?

The species was almost hunted to extinction in the UK in the 19th century for its head plumes that were used as a decoration for ladies’ hats and garments. The RSPB was founded with the goal of protecting the grebes.  


Great crested grebe

Photo Credit: John Parish