Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe

Key facts

Scientific name: Podiceps cristatus

Status: Resident breeding species and winter visitor

Breeding birds: 5,300 adults

Wintering birds: 23,000

Conservation status: Green

Length: 46 – 62 cm

Wingspan: 59 – 74 cm

Weight: 800 – 1500 g


Great crested grebes are elegant waterbirds that in breeding season have grey-brown upperparts with black and white upperwings. The back of their necks are black while the front of their necks, breasts and bellies are white. The side of their bodies are rust coloured and they have white underwings.

Great crested grebes have black crests on the forecrown with a chestnut coloured ruff with black tips. Their faces are white with a black forehead and crown. Great crested grebes’ bills are pinkish and their eyes are deep red. Their legs and feet are black. Males and females look similar.

During winter great crested grebes do not have ruffs and their heads are black and white. Their bodies are duller.

Juvenile great crested grebes have grey-brown plumage with streaked black and white heads and no crest.


Great crested grebes nest in loose colonies or by themselves. They build their nests on a platform of plants that floats but is anchored to vegetation or aquatic weeds.

Great crested grebes lay 3-5 cream coloured eggs which the female covers with algae when she leaves the nest to feed so eventually the eggs turn chestnut brown. The eggs are incubated for 25-30 days are chicks are born with black and white down. Both parents feed the chicks which fledge 70-80 days after hatching. Chicks are often carried around on the backs of their parents.


Great crested grebes eat mainly fish as well as small eels, crustaceans, molluscs, amphibians and some plants.

Great Crested Grebe

Where to see them

Great crested grebes can be seen all year round in the UK except for the north of Scotland. They can be found in lakes, reservoirs and rivers and along the coast during winter.


Peter Boesman/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Great crested grebes are well known for the elaborate courtship displays where pairs raise and shake their heads before offering weeds to each other.

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