Great Crested Grebes

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Great Crested Grebe

Scientific name:  Podiceps cristatus

Size:  Approx 45 - 50cm

Distribution:  Found in most parts of the UK except northern Scotland

Months seen:  All year round

Life Span: 11 years (source BTO)

Habitat:  Lakes, reservoirs and rivers

Food:  Aquatic insects and small fish.

Special features:  Great Crested Grebes get their name from those elaborate head feathers which appear during the breeding season.  These birds were almost hunted out of existence here in the 1800's, because hats with great crested grebe head feathers were considered the height of fashion.

By 1860 there were less than 100 birds remaining in the U.K., but thanks to conservationists raising awareness of the problem, this bird has made a successful comeback.  They can now be seen on most large lakes, gravel pits and slow moving rivers.  They do seem to have learnt a lesson from this, as they tend to keep well away from the banks when people are around.

In February, pairs of Great Crested Grebes perform an elaborate courtship display.  This involves a lot of beak-to-beak head shaking, and culminates in the birds raising themselves out of the water, breast to breast, by paddling very rapidly.

The nest is built on the water, and is a rather fragile construction.  Passing boats are a real danger, as the wake can easily destroy the nest and wash the eggs away.

When the chicks hatch, they ride on their parents back for the first few weeks.  The chicks are vulnerable to predators in the water, and so hitching a lift in this way offers them some safety.  Unlike their parents the chicks are striped all over with red patches on their heads.  The stripes remain until winter when their new plumage appears.

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