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Great crested grebe on the water

Great crested grebe

Podiceps cristatus

This elegant waterbird with elaborate head plumes like a Tudor courtier is much famed for its complex courtship display. You’ll find great crested grebes around the Solent all year round.

All about great crested grebes

These waterbirds have an extraordinarily elaborate mating dance which you might be lucky enough to see in the early spring. Pairs of great crested grebes join together to perform a ritual which includes head waggling, preening, diving under the water and popping out again, and famously offering each other displays of water weed, sometimes with feet frantically paddling until they are vertically out of the water, chest to chest.

Once hatched, very young grebes often ride on their parents’ backs, keeping up a demand for small fish and other treats.

Its ornate head feathers meant it was excessively hunted for its feathers, almost leading to its extermination in the UK.

They dive to feed and also to escape predators too.

Grebes are a family of swimming and diving, small-to-medium-sized, water birds and are characterised by their pointed bills and ‘lobed’ toes, rather than webbed feet. You need to be quick if taking a photo or trying to ID one as they are usually only on the surface for a short time. A lot of people mistake them for diving ducks as they have similar behaviour. On land grebes are clumsy because their feet are placed so far back on their bodies.

Local spotlight

Great Crested Grebe can be seen in lakes, rivers, and in the sea around the Solent coast.

Conservation status

Great crested grebe are amber listed in the UK.

While they might not be listed in the Solent’s Special Protection Area, they are still  important for the coastal ecosystem and form part of the non-breeding waterbird assemblages for which these regions are protected .

Did you know?

The highlight of this birds’ courtship display is the ‘weed dance’. Both birds dive down to collect weed in their bills and then rise up out of the water, face to face.