Great Crested Grebe in breeding season

HaubentaucherA Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) sits upright on its nest and hatches the cubs. Elegant feathers adorn the head on the long, thin neck.

At the beginning of spring, harsh screams came from the reeds. On silent days one could hear the deep cries far over the smooth water of the lake. A couple of Great Crested Grebes had settled on the edge of the lake.

At the end of February / beginning of March, at the courtship time of the grebes, there is a busy time on the lake. The males argue loudly about their territories. In courtship, males and females face chest to breast, shake their headdress, present each other nesting material and align themselves with each other with lowered beaks. Early in the morning at dawn, the spectacle begins and only after the sun has set, action calms down at the lake.

Once a couple has found each other, they start to build a nest that they either hide in the reeds or in the middle of the water. For several days they build together on the floating raft of reeds, leaves and water lilies. They then eagerly haul plant material and swim up to 80 times per hour to their construction site until it is stable enough.

Since the Great Crested Grebes often breed close to the shore, they find enough nesting material here. Building the nest usually takes a week. Once the nest is finished, the copulations will follow on specially constructed platforms of broken reed stalks and reeds. The mating can take place several times a day. After that, the female gradually lays the total of up to four eggs. They are incubated by both parents.

Now begins a busy time. The nests are easily flooded or break apart. Every day they are therefore repaired with new material and stabilized. If the adults are not careful, e.g. because an aggressive Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra) destroys the brood because its territory seems threatened, everything was in vain. If the water level drops, raptors can reach the nests from the land, too. In addition, hungry Eurasian Marsh-Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) can be expected, which also have to hatch young in the reeds.

The color of the eggs changes from white to brownish during the breeding season. After about four weeks, the little birds hatch in their striped suits, which look like “pajamas”. Each young can be identified by a specific pattern.

On the back of the parent bird the chicks leave the nest. So they are protected from predatory fish that lurk under water. For two weeks, they enjoy the trips on their parents’ backs, where they are also fed. However, rearing is not always successful. Adverse weather conditions, predators or inexperience in nest building reduce the number of chicks. After brood losses, the pairs often provide a second or even third breeding attempt.

In winter, the birds mostly leave their breeding grounds and gather for wintering on larger lakes.

Many couples of Great Crested Grebe breed on large ponds or on dredged lakes and it’s not easy to approach the birds on telephoto distance. But there are exceptions. At the Altmühlsee, the Great Crested Grebe has become accustomed to the proximity of humans. During the breeding season, an adult bird is practically always sitting on the floating nest, only a few inches above the waterline. There are Great Crested Grebes on the Altmühlsee so trusting that they brood on a bird island right next to a frequently used trail. They do not shy away from diving under the wooden bridges, even if visitors are standing on it. All you have to do is to position yourself next to the boardwalk and take pictures of the nests and the birds swimming on. Of course, it requires a certain improvisation to be able to scan the floating Great Crested Grebe “at eye level”. An alternative may be a floating camouflage tent. A wooden platform and a tube of tractor tire can form the base on which the camouflage tent stands. In a similar way, images of were taken in South America.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western palearctic.  Trips to remote places like this one to capture images of rare birds of western palearctic were very successful. The nice image of the blog is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give me a message, if I could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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