The great crested grebe is the largest grebe in Europe. It is a graceful bird, with its long neck, long bill and slender outline. In summer, the adults of both sexes are adorned with beautiful head-plumes which are reddish-orange in colour with black tips. The sexes are similar in appearance, but juveniles can be distinguished by the possession of blackish stripes on the cheeks.

The great crested grebe dives for fish, insects and invertebrate larvae, chasing prey under water by strongly swimming with its feet.

Pairs begin to form during the middle of winter and nesting can start in January, providing that conditions are mild. This grebe is well known for its elaborate courtship display, in which pairs raise and shake their head plumes, and approach each other with weed in their bills, rising up breast to breast in the water and turning their heads from side to side. The nest is either a hidden mound of reeds and other vegetation or else a floating platform anchored to vegetation, as in this collection. After May, between 1 and 9 (but usually 4) eggs are laid, which take 27-29 days to incubate. Both parents are involved in incubation; when they leave the nest they cover the eggs with rotting vegetation to keep them warm. After hatching, the stripy chicks are carried around on the backs of their parents, they fledge at around 71-79 days of age.

This attractive species was persecuted in Britain during Victorian times to such an extent that it was reduced to just 42 pairs in 1860 and was on the brink of extinction. The breast plumage, known as 'grebe fur', and the head plumes were highly prized in hat trimmings and other clothing.

In 1889 a group of women formed the 'Fur, Fin and Feather Folk' in order to protest against the massacre of birds purely for clothing. Within one year the group had more than 5000 members. From 1904 this group was known as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and is today one of Europe's largest and most influential conservation charities, with over 1 million members. The great crested grebe has since expanded greatly in numbers and range, and is one of the most resounding conservation successes that Great Britain has known.

Great Crested Grebes on Nest Podiceps cristatus


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