Physical characteristics: Great crested grebes are 18 to 24 inches (46 to 61 centimeters) tall and weigh between 1.25 and 3.3 pounds (0.57 to 1.5 kilograms). During breeding, the adult's crown is black while the sides of the head are white blending to a light brown fan at the back of the head. Their undersides are white. Nonbreeding adults have no fan. Immature birds are similar, but sport numerous black stripes on the side of the head. Their eyes are red and the bill is pink.
Geographic range: These birds live in Europe, in Asia south to the Himalayas, and in North Africa north of the Sahara Desert. They spend the winters in warmer coastal waters.
Habitat: Great crested grebes breed on large lakes and in brackish, slightly salty, waters. They can also be found in environments such as city parks.
Great crested grebes flee from danger by diving under water rather than taking flight. (Illustration by Barbara Duperron. Reproduced by permission.)
Diet: Great crested grebes eat mostly large fish, but also eat squid, frogs, snails, and other invertebrates, animals without backbones.
Behavior and reproduction: Great crested grebes can be found in groups of up to ten thousand, although they are also found alone or in pairs. This species participates in elaborate mating rituals. Nests are built on the water, and although females can lay up to nine eggs, they are more likely to lay between three and five eggs. Incubation lasts twenty-five to twenty-nine days. Parents carry their young on their backs for three to four weeks. Chicks are able to fly at ten weeks.
Great crested grebes flee from danger by diving under water rather than taking flight. They can live to the age of eleven years.
Great crested grebes and people: This bird was once extensively hunted for its feathers and as a result nearly became extinct in Europe in the 1800s.
Conservation status: Although once nearly extinct in Europe, this species has made an impressive comeback thanks to the eutrophica-tion (yoo-troh-fih-KAY-shun), the aging process, of lakes—the lakes contain more food for the grebes as they age. Populations are stable in all ranges. ■
Western grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis) Resident Nonbreeding
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When over eighty years of age, the poet Bryant said that he had added more than ten years to his life by taking a simple exercise while dressing in the morning. Those who knew Bryant and the facts of his life never doubted the truth of this statement.