The slavonian grebe (Podiceps auritus) is an eye-catchingbird, especially in its breeding plumage, but it is more likely to be seen incoastal waters around parts of the British Isles during the winter months. Eventhen, it is not a common bird, being seen in much greater numbers in Iceland,Scandinavia, Russia and North America. A few pairs breed each year on remotefreshwater lochs in the Scottish Highlands, the first such pair having beenrecorded in 1908.
At around 13 inches (33 cms) in length, the slavovian grebeis about the size of a moorhen. It has a long neck, flat crown and short bill.
The summer plumage comprises black cheek feathers, chestnuton the neck and flanks, and a dark back. The most striking feature is theprominent yellow tuft, resembling a horn, on either side of the head.
In winter, the Slavonian grebe is a black and white bird,dark above and light below, with a black crown and white cheeks, throat andbreast. The plumage – both in summer and winter – is similar as between malesand females.
The slavonian grebe is mostly silent, although duringcourtship it utters a guttural trill.
They feed on water insects, larvae and small fish. They willdive for food or take it by skimming the surface.
After wintering on coastal waters, Slavonian grebes returnto their breeding grounds in March or early April, having already formed pairs.They have an elaborate courtship ritual in which both birds rear up and faceeach other, shaking their heads. They will also dive at the same time, comeback to the surface carrying water-weed in their bills, then dash side-by-sidefor up to 10 metres.
The nest is built from water-weed, floating on the surface, butanchored to the lake bottom by plants that grow from there. The nest will be ina sheltered position, possibly under tree branches or overhanging rocks.
Four or five eggs are laid, to be incubated by both birds,with the chicks hatching after three to four weeks. The chicks are able to swimsoon after hatching but will also ride on their parents’ backs. They are ableto dive after about ten days, but will rely on being fed by their parents untilthey are almost ready to fledge, which will be at about two months old.
The Slavonian grebe is a protected species in the UnitedKingdom, with every effort made to keep the breeding sites secret as protectionagainst egg collectors.