Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe family - 2017

Great Crested Grebe often breed on the larger lake at Barnwell Country Park. In 2017 I followed a family from nesting to independence.

I missed the stunning courtship display, which occurs around March to May. Maybe next year?

I first spotted them nest building in early June. Being used to people walking around the park, they were not worried about me pointing a long lens at them. I did, however, find a secluded spot under some trees and observed them from a distance. I counted 5 eggs in the nest.

I was using a 400mm prime lens with a 1.4x extender on my Canon 7D Mark 2. I set up my tripod to keep the camera steady as handholding this combination can be tricky.

(Cropped) Grebes on nest with eggs

Adult Great Crested Grebe take turns in sitting on the eggs while the other bird goes fishing.

Incubating the eggs

By mid June three chicks hatched. The babies settle amongst the parents feathers for warmth and safety. You can just see their stripey heads showing in the photograph below.

Three tiny babies on mother's back

The parent birds were busy fishing and feeding the babies. I stood for hours watching them at work and was lucky enough to see several successful catches. The following photo is an extreme crop (so a little grainy due to the high ISO necessary) showing meal time for one chick.

Cropped image - feeding baby a fish
Great Crested Grebe parents and babiesYoung grebe family

By the end of the month the three babies had taken to the water, although they still hitched a ride when possible.

By mid July there were only two babies left. Either something ate the other one, or it missed out on food and perished.  The adults look after one chick each so it is not uncommon for them to neglect a third and let it starve. 

Only 2 babies left

The two remaining chicks flourished. As the days went by, the adults left them while they both went off to fish. This didn't stop the babies trying to hitch a ride,  even if they were too big by now!

Hitching a ride

Each time a parent returned the babies would beg for food, with their little bottoms up in the air and their yellow legs paddling frantically. It was so funny to watch.

Young grebe demanding food from parent (love those feet!)

The stripes on their bodies began to fade, but they kept them on their heads and necks.

Growing up

As the Great Crested Grebe matures it still retains the stripey head for the first winter. I took the following image of one of the younsters in October 2017. It will be two years before it reaches breeding age.

Juvenile Great Crested GrebeJuvenile still showing stripes on head

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