The Great Crested Grebe

 

‘Against the wind-whipped water of a grey afternoon the fantastic yet graceful figures of the great crested grebes were pricked sharply and clearly. Their white breasts flashed at a great distance, whiter than the tufted duck’s white flanks; but the peculiar distinction of these diving birds is their tall carriage when alert and courting, and the strange decoration of their uplifted heads. Both sexes in spring and summer wear a pair of plumes which they can raise like horns, and a wide fringe depending from the cheeks, which can also be spread wide. With their sharp bills and dark eyes surrounded by these brown and ruddy trappings, the grebes are strange and stately figures, and a little stern; there is a combined suggestion in their visage of a judge’s wig and the pole-axe of an executioner.’ 1923

The Great Crested Grebe in its summer plumage is a spectacular bird as it performs its elaborate courtship rituals. The grebe dance, when a pair faces each other through a sequence of neck-swaying, head-shaking, bill-touching and pretend preening  – all performed  in elegant symmetry  – is one of the most beautiful scenes in nature.

The climax of their ritual is the weed dance in which the birds dive and gather waterweed, then rise up and face each other in a kind of wobbly dance. They paddle furiously to maintain an upright position breast to breast – an unforgettable sight and an impressive display of stamina.

 

The Weed Dance

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The grebes collect weed from underwater, bring it to the surface and show it off, facing each other, swaying and shaking their heads. A spectacular sight.