Grebes and Loons



Grebes - Podicipedidae


Grebes are small to medium-sized aquatic bird, highly specialised to living in vegetated lakes, slow flowing waters such as brooks, small rivers and shallow sea-bays. They are excellent divers and can dive for up to 45 seconds and into depths of 2-4 m.


Their bodies are streamlined and feet are place far to the back, thereby facilitating excellent diving abilities but making them slow movers on land. In fact you will hardly ever see them walking on land, if any it looks not only awkward but somehow hapless. 


Grebes never fly at high altitudes but only close over the water. Though, they aren't any good at flying, because of their short, small wings. 


Greebs feed on fish, aquatic insects and green plants. Floating nest for breeding, mostly close to lakeshore or river banks. 


Western Palearctic Grebes


There are five breeding species plus an American vagrant:

  • Slavonian Grebe - Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
  • Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)
  • Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
  • Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) - rare American vagrant during migration
  • Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)
  • Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps gisegena)


great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus
Great Crested Grebe
little grebe
Little Grebe


Loons - Gaviidae


Loons are rather large, long-necked aquatic birds. They are also known as so-called divers. Likes grebes their feet are place far to the back, providing them with great swimming and diving abilities but hamper their movements on land. Long, small pointed wings, medium-sized pointed bill. They tend to fly with extended neck and outstretched legs. In flight they look similar to cormorants. Flight with flickering quick wingbeats (characteristic).


They swim low like cormorants; though, when resting or preening they float higher. 


Loons feed mainly on fish and can submerge for >60 secends and dive over long distances and to depths of 2-6 metres. 


Breeds at pools and lakes of woodland and tundra. Loons are breeding birds in northern Scotland, Iceland and north Europe.  


Loons in the Western Palearctic

  • Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata)
  • Black-throated Loon (Arctic Diver)
  • Great Northern Loon (Gavia immer)
  • Yellow-billed Loon - White-billed Diver (Gavia adamsii) 


great crested grebe Podiceps cristatus
Two adult with one immature Great Crested Grebes on a lake