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 Great Crested Grebe - Fact File

Great Crested Grebe

Podiceps cristatus
Widespread resident. Avoids upland areas.
Breeds on lakes, slow rivers, gravel pits, etc, and also found in coastal waters in winter.

Colourful crests make birds in breeding plumage easy to identify. In winter more similar to some other grebes, but larger and has distincive shape'.

51 cm (20")

Great Crested Grebe

Henry Stevenson, a renowned ornithologist, provides tantalising glimpses of the bird life in Victorian Norwich in his classic three-volume Birds of Norfolk.

In those far off days he records storm petrel being taken alive in Rose Lane, dipper at Pull's Ferry and black terns when on spring migration being shot from Foundry Bridge. Times have changed.

Nowadays strollers along the Wensum footpath regularly report interesting observations for the inclusion in the county Bird Report.

In the summer of 1992, and apparently for the first time, two pairs of splendid great crested grebes successfully bred on the river in the city centre rearing broods of young.

Young grebes are delightful zebra-striped creatures capable of swimming and diving almost at hatching. During the first two to three weeks they ride on the parents' back in turn while the other adult brings food.

Parent grebes assist the young to climb aboard by placing a foot along the surface of the water. But before long the adults begin discouraging the young from boarding by chucking them off and manoeuvring out of the way. If the young steal a ride, they appear to almost sink the parent!

The diet of young grebes is whole fish accompanied by feathers; they can feed themselves when eight weeks old. Feather eating is, in fact, habitual and a ball of whole and decomposed feathers often nearly fills the stomach.

Great Crested GrebeThe city's great crested grebes will drift leisurely down river, doubtless assembling with other grebe families at the western end of Breydon Water. As many as 100 may assemble on this stretch of tideway. It is difficult to appreciate that the highly ornamental great crested grebe was at one time in danger of extinction in Norfolk.

Over a century ago this was the case. The traffic in eggs and the demand for breast feathers for ladies' muffs and headgear reduced numbers to a low ebb. As soon as the birds became scarce, collectors eagerly obtained specimens for mounting in glass cases. It is appalling to read that in a single spring one individual in Norfolk shot 29 grebes all in full breeding plumage. And a dealer received six dozen eggs from Hickling. So the fearful toll continued.

If it had not been for protection afforded it on certain private broads there can be little doubt that the protection acts would have come too late to save the great crested grebe as a Norfolk breeding bird.

.By Michael J Seago

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Copyright Information

  • Article: © Eastern Counties Newspapers Group
  • Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge © Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.
  • Other material: © Birds Of Britain