Little Grebe

Tachybaptus ruficollis



This is the smallest Grebe in Britain. It is a dumpy bird with a rounded head, a shorter neck compared to other grebes, and a white puff of feathers beneath its tail. The sexes are similar, though appearance differs by season. In summer, the plumage is mostly brown, apart from the cheeks and neck which are a rich chestnut; the bill is small with a white tip and a green spot at its base. In winter the bird has brown upperparts; its cheeks and neck are paler and it has a darkened crown. The juvenile is similar to an adult during the winter, but two dark stripes behind the eye and a pale throat make it possible to distinguish them.


Found across Britain and Ireland with a tendency towards freshwater habitats such as reservoirs, lakes and slow-flowing rivers.


The Little Grebe dives often to hunt for food; it is also more likely to dive than fly if fleeing a threat, and sometimes scurries across the surface of the water. When it feels in serious danger, it may submerge itself with only its head revealed and remain that way for some time. This is a predominately solitary bird when not in breeding season, though small groups may roost together. They defend a small territory with vigour, and some may occupy that territory year-round, others only to breed, and others only in the winter.


Diet includes water snails, small fish (minnows and young carp) and insects and their larvae.


Pairs create a nest that floats in shallow water, or they attach the nest to low hanging branches that dip into the water. Female lays 4-6 eggs; they're white at first and then become brown. Both parents share the job of incubation and the eggs hatch after 20 days; young have a layer of down and they leave the nest quickly, though both parents feed them. They can fly after about 45 days but are independent between 30-40 days.


Mostly a resident species, though birds breeding in the north of the region tend to move south in the autumn. 7500 pairs breed in the UK and 1000-2500 in Ireland; numbers increase in the winter or in cold weather.

Observation Tips

Due to its secretive nature, the Little Grebe's distinctive trill is a good indication of its presence. It's also worth observing vegetation beside fresh water habitats.


It has a whinnying call which is sometimes uttered in duet, usually during disputes or courtship.
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