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.

Photo of Grebe pair

The Great Crested Grebe perform a stunning courtship display, around March to May. They stand up tall and present their partners gifts of water weed. Then they dance across the water's surface!

Grebe from hide

I first spotted them nest building at Barnwell in early June. As they were 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.

Great crested grebe pair on nest(Cropped) Grebes on nest with eggs

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

Great crested grebe incubating eggsIncubating the eggs

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

Three tiny baby grebes on mother's backThree 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 because of the high ISO necessary) showing meal time for one chick.

Parent feeding tiny baby grebe
A grebe family with youngYoung 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. 

Two baby grebesTwo baby grebes

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 from trying to hitch a ride, even if they were too big by now!

Baby grebe hitching a rideHitching 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 parentYoung grebe demanding food

The stripes on their bodies faded, but they remained on their heads and necks.

Grebe with larger chick
Young grebe shaking off water dropletsBaby grebe shaking off water droplets

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

Juvenile still showing stripes on headJuvenile still showing stripes on head

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