The black-necked grebe is a highly-sociable, small and dark member of the grebe family. Known as the 'eared grebe' in America.
Male and female black-necked grebes share the same plumages all year round. In summer, adults have black heads, necks, breast and upperparts. The flanks and sides are a cinnamon colour and the bellies are white. One of the most distinctive features and useful identification features are the vibrant golden ear tufts that stand out against the black crest. In flight, the wings show white patches with the underwing also being mostly white. The bills are thin and upturned slightly in most birds and the eyes stay bright red all year. In winter the crown, back and wing coverts become dark and the head crest is not present. The sides and flanks are a greyish-white colour.
Juveniles are similar to adults, but usually have brown tinges on their neck and backs; some buff tinges on the top of the neck and side of the head.
During the winter, red-necked grebes are difficult to distinguish from the slavonian grebe. However, in the summer it's much easier as the black-necked grebe has the black neck and yellow ear tufts, not the red neck that the slavonian grebe has. Also, the red-necked grebe has a steeper forehead and slightly up-turned bill.
Black-necked grebe in alternative plumage
Generally a silent bird, the black-necked grebe becomes vocal during the breeding season whilst trying to find a mate. The calls are "poo-ee'-chk" sound, which is repeated up to 12 times in a row. Females calls are generally shorter and a higher pitch.
Advertising call of the black-necked grebe
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The diet of a black-necked grebe consists of a wide variety of aquatic prey. This mainly is small crustaceans, insects and occasionally small fish, amphibians and molluscs.
Reservoirs, gravel pits and estuaries are all good places to see black-necked grebes, particularly during the winter. They can be seen all year round, with the Fal Estuary in Cornwall and Poole Harbour in Dorset being good places.
These birds are rare breeding birds here in the UK, and will only breed in a handful of places.
Black-necked grebes are almost flightless for around 9 months of the year, which is by far the most of any flying bird. This is because their legs are set quite far back on the body, which makes it quite difficult to walk. When migration comes around, they do, however, undertake lengthy flights to their breeding grounds.
A pair of black-necked grebes
Black-necked grebes build their nests at the edge of the water, this is because of their difficulty when it comes to walking. The pair will select a suitable nesting site together and will then build it together. The nests are usually built on a foundation of bent over reeds when available. They will dive to find plant matter on the bottom of a lake and then lay it on the nesting site. This will be repeated many times until they're left with a pyramid-shaped pile. Females will usually lay between 3 and 4 eggs that go from being light blue to white and then to a dark brown colour. Both sexes will incubate the eggs for around 3 weeks.
The nest of a black-necked grebe
Black-necked grebe swimming with chick
The average lifespan for a black-necked grebe is around 7 years.
ResidentSpain The United Kingdom France Albania Austria Belgium Bosnia and Herzegovina Bulgaria Croatia Germany Greece Hungary Ireland Macedonia Montenegro Netherlands Poland Romania Serbia Slovakia Slovenia Switzerland Turkey Ukraine Czechia Iran Kyrgyzstan Qatar United Arab Emirates Armenia Azerbaijan Georgia
BreedingBelarus Denmark Estonia Kazakhstan Latvia Liechtenstein Lithuania Moldova Russia Sweden Namibia South Africa Sudan Zimbabwe Afghanistan Mongolia Russia Turkmenistan Uzbekistan Canada United States of America Southern Russia
Non-breedingItaly Cyprus Malta Portugal Senegal Sudan Tunisia Iraq Jordon Lebanon Palestine Syria Israel Bahrain Kuwait Oman Saudi Arabia Yemen Costa Rica