Lit­tle grebe

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Illustration by Bill Dono­hoe

PLOUGH­ING at speed across the lake, what is that lit­tle round brown­ish thing that’s not a coot or a moorhen and not a duck? It’s prob­a­bly the ubiq­ui­tous lit­tle grebe, a less flam­boy­ant swim­mer than its larger, whiskered cousin, the great crested grebe.

Grebes like things just so: a nice stretch of fresh wa­ter such as a pond, a reser­voir or a slug­gish stretch of river, but it must have plenty of reeds on its mar­gins wherein these shy lit­tle crea­tures can hide, feed and, in due sea­son, raise a fam­ily or two (or even three, in a good year).

A thick, wo­ven mat of float­ing ma­te­rial makes the nest, hid­den in the reedbed. The eggs, be­ing white, could be seen by preda­tors, there­fore, when mother de­parts for some swim­ming ex­er­cise and un­der­wa­ter feast­ing, she first pulls a cov­er­ing of reed leaves over them, which also helps to main­tain warmth and hu­mid­ity within the nest.

Win­ter plumage is as sea­son­ally sub­tle as the reeds them­selves: a pale, dull brown above with pale cream down the throat and un­der­sides. Sum­mer breed­ing dress is more glam­orous, how­ever, rouged in a dark, rusty red on the cheeks and neck. On hatch­ing, the chicks rapidly get the idea of swim­ming, but will also save the ef­fort now and then and hitch a ride on their par­ents’ backs. KBH

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