Slavonian Grebe

Podiceps auritus

31-38cm

Appearance

This is an elegant water bird with a beady red eye. Its flat crown and stumpy bill (with a white tip) can be used to separate this bird from the Black-necked Grebe, which has quite a resemblance. The sexes are similar, but the plumage of winter and summer differs. Summer birds have a black back and head; the head has golden-yellow tufts. The neck and flanks are reddish-orange. In winter, birds are black and white; the white of the cheeks goes almost to the back of the head, the breast and throat are white, and the bird has a defined black hat that lowers to its eye. Juvenile birds resemble the winter adult, though its markings are less distinctive and the hint of dark stripes can be seen on the cheeks.

Habitat

Favoured breeding sites are lakes with vegetation such as sedges or horsetails. Winter habitats include estuaries and sheltered coastal areas.

Character

Is most often on the ocean in winter, alone or in small numbers, though birds form small groups to migrate. When flying, there are white patches on the edges of the bird's wings. Performs a courtship ritual that sees a pair rising in the the water, facing each other and shaking their heads; the birds then dive and return with water weeds in their bills. They face each other, then turn and move quickly across the water 5-10m.

Food

Diet consists mostly of insects such as stoneflies, other flies and their larvae, and beetles. Also eats fish such as sticklebacks, trout and eels. Adults and young also eat feathers.

Breeding

Birds pair up in winter or during migration. The female lays 4-5 eggs; both parents incubate them for around 24 days. Hatchlings are covered in down and often ride on their parents' backs. They can swim soon after hatching, are independent after 45 days, and can fly at 55 days old.

Population

Approximately 50 pairs breed in Scotland each year, with around 1000 individuals spending winter around British and Irish coasts. Scottish, Icelandic and Scandinavian birds spend winter around North Sea coasts; in March or early April, Scottish birds return to their breeding lochs.

Observation Tips

During winter, calm days on sheltered, coastal areas are an opportunity to spot this bird. Scottish reserves are the best option for observation in summer.

Voice

Predominately a silent bird, though it does have territorial trills and squeals, and a guttural call amidst courtship.
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