Sunday, 11 September 2022

A look at the Great Crested Grebes

Chiffchaffs raised a family in the woodland just north of Henry Moore and can often be seen there or in the trees on the other side of the path.

Neil photographed a Robin in the Flower Walk against a background of ferns.

Ahmet Amerikali got a dramatic shot of a Canada Goose descending, just about to touch the water.

And here are three fine close-ups from David Element: a young Lesser Black-Backed Gull on the Long Water ...

... a carp in a pool in the Italian Garden ...

... and a resting fox.

It's been a bad year for Great Crested Grebes, with no chicks surviving. They had three broods in spring when there weren't enough small fish to keep the chicks going, and just one nest in summer but the eggs didn't hatch. Let's hope they do better next year. Here is a look back at their life in earlier years.

Flight is not really their thing. They have small wings for their size ...

... takeoff calls for a frantic 50 yard run mostly propelled by their feet ...

... they usually stay low ...

... and coming down on the water is a semi-controlled crash.

But they can travel when they need to, flying at night to avoid predators.

Under water it's a different story. They dive effortlessly: head down, as swift kick, and they are down with barely a splash.

Submerged they are graceful, agile and fast, reaching at least 15 mph as they chase fish ...

... which they catch with ease.

This leaves them plenty of time for doing absolutely nothing.

They mate for life and couples are devoted to each each other, with frequent displays of affection. Even when a grebe has been out of sight of its mate for 10 minutes they have a greeting ceremony when they are reunited.

Pairs claim territories and defend them fiercely. Usually disputes can be settled by a threat display, but occasionally a fight breaks out. One grebe tries to grab the other by the neck, tip it over, and hold its head under water, which obliges it to submit and retreat.

Their time of nesting is usually determined by the amount of small fish available (which is what they miscalculated this year). It's now that you see them doing their famous dance.

In fact there are two kinds of dance, the 'penguin dance' where they stand up in the water together, waving bits of weed to symbolise building a nest ...

... and the less frequent 'cat dance' where one grebe rushes off and sits in the water with wings raised to look as if it was carrying a large load of chicks.

The other bird, out of shot in this video, stands in the 'penguin' posture to watch the display.

Nests are low sloppy heaps of twigs and weed draped over submerged branches.

Eggs have to be turned to keep them evenly warmed.

The chicks' pretty striped heads are disruptive camouflage, and they are surprisingly invisible at a distance.

But they can certainly be heard. They are very noisy, constantly pestering their parents for food and wanting to ride on their back when they're large enough to swim on their own.

A chick begs, a parent goes off to catch a fish for it, and one of two chicks gets fed.

They are also given feathers, which wrap up sharp fishbones so that they don't damage their insides.

Two chicks have a little greeting ceremony. It's hard wired into their brain. So is the instinct to dance, but when they grow up they have to practise to get it right.

The grebes on the lake are used to boats and not bothered by them.


  1. Oh my God, I'd give my left hand to be the girl in that pedalo.
    What a lovely, lovely series about Grebes. It almost reads like a fairytale. Wish next year we will have a happier ending,


    1. Several years ago two very small grebe chicks wandered off and got lost. I went out on a boat with Mateusz and with the chicks in a shoe box to find the parents and return the chicks to them, which we successfully did. That was a memorable experience.

    2. I'd give my **right** hand for that!
      Where is Mateusz, by the way? I haven't read much about him of late.

    3. Since Bluebird Boats were kicked out of the park Mateusz has been working at their operation in Battersea Park. But only part-time. This able and devoted man deserved much better.