Australian Bush Birds
Great Crested Grebe  -  Podiceps cristatus
Great Cormorant
Great Crested Grebe in full breeding plumage on the lake at Bindegolly National Park, Southwest Queensland.
map map The Great Crested Grebe - Podiceps cristatus - is the largest Australian grebe (48 to 61 centimetres long, females slightly smaller). This is a specialised aquatic species which rarely emerges onto land; the large-lobed feet set well back on the body provide optimum water propulsion but permit only a slow shuffling walk on land or at the nest. It is an excellent swimmer on the surface and underwater. When threatened it submerges with very little trace left on the water and swims away submerged to surface in the distance or behind screening vegetation.

Great Crested Grebe
Great Crested Grebe in breeding plumage at Bindegolly National Park in 2011.
Great Crested Grebe - page 2
Rarely seen flying and then only in short, low flights across water with rapid, shallow beating wings. But long flights are made between lakes as they dry up in drought and form again after rain; it is believed these long flights between lakes are made at night.

The Great Crested Grebe dives for its food, sometimes staying under water for nearly a minute but usually for about 30 seconds. Moves both feet when swimming underwater. Diet includes fish, insects, larvae, crustaceans, snails, tadpoles and plant material; fish are a major item caught by pursuit and usually eaten underwater.

Adults have distinctive breeding plumage characterised by pointed black crests ("ear tufts") extending as a black patch to the bill. Eye red. Cheeks and throat white, dark line between eye and base of bill. The bill is large, long and straight, brown above and reddish below. The neck is encircled with a prominent rufous and black-tipped ruff. The long neck is mainly white merging into black at the back. Back is dark (mainly brown), flanks are buff and underside white gleaming in sunlight.

In non-breeding adult plumage the bill is yellow, the ruff is much reduced or non-existent and the crest is very small or non-existent. Hatchlings are dark brown with white stripes on head and body; some stripes on the neck are retained in juvenile birds; immature adults lose the stripes but have not developed ruff or crests.

Breeding takes place in November to March. The nest is a mat of floating water plants in various sites; reed-beds in metre deep water near the shoreline (fresh, brackish or sea water) to islands of weed floating in deep water. Both sexes build the nest moored to reeds to keep it in place. Territory around the nest is strongly defended and both incubate the eggs for 22-29 days. Three to seven eggs laid, pale green, stained, oblong-oval, 55 mm x 35mm.

After the young hatch they ride on the back of one parent while the other brings them food. Periodically there is a changeover when the carrying parent flaps it wings and rises up tipping the chicks into the water; they swim to the other parent and use that parent's foot as a ramp to climb up.

Lives in open water, mostly in eastern Australia, but also in south-western Australia. Occasionally seen in the Lake Eyre Basin and the Murray-Darling.

Common Names include Great Crested Grebe, Crested Grebe, Tippet Grebe.