Little Grebe

Little Grebe


Tachybaptus ruficollis
Population size
Life Span
10-15 yrs
130-236 g
23-29 cm
40-45 cm

The Little grebe is a small water bird that is commonly found in open bodies of water across most of its wide range. Adult birds are unmistakable in summer; they are predominantly dark above with their rich, rufous color neck, cheeks and flanks, and bright yellow gape. The rufous is replaced by a dirty brownish grey in non-breeding and juvenile birds. Juvenile birds have a yellow bill with a small black tip and black and white streaks on the cheeks and sides of the neck. This yellow bill darkens as the juveniles grow, eventually turning black in adulthood.


Little grebes are found across Europe, much of Asia down to New Guinea, and most of Africa. They are only migratory in those parts of their range where the waters freeze. These birds breed in heavily vegetated areas of freshwater lakes, ponds, sheltered bays, reservoirs, slow-flowing rivers, lagoons, swamps, and rice-fields. Outside of the breeding season, they move into more open water, occasionally even appearing on the coast in small bays and estuaries.

Little Grebe habitat map


Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Little grebes are diurnal birds; they are excellent swimmers and divers and pursue their prey underwater. They are clumsy on land and rarely come ashore. Little grebes are generally solitary and outside of the breeding season prefer to be singly or may sometimes gather in small groups of 5-30 individuals. These are very shy and wary birds and when disturbed they will dive or lurk into nearby vegetation. Little grebes are often heard by their loud whining trill and their 'bee-eep' calls.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Little grebes are carnivores (insectivores, piscivores). Their diet consists of insects, small fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and amphibians.

Mating Habits

varies with location; India - rainy season
20-25 days
4-7 eggs

Little grebes are monogamous breeders. This means that males will mate with only one female and females will mate with only one male. The time of breeding varies with location; in India, it usually occurs during the rainy season. They usually breed in small colonies and may produce 2-3 clutches per breeding season. Grebes nest at the water's edge, since their legs are set very far back and they cannot walk well. The nests are floating constructions of vegetation anchored to submerged water plants. Females lay four to seven eggs that are incubated by both parents within 20-25 days. When the adult bird leaves the nest it usually covers the eggs with weeds. This makes it less likely to be detected by predators. The young leave the nest and can swim soon after hatching, and chicks are often carried on the backs of the swimming adults. Little grebes become reproductively mature when they are 1 year old.


Population threats

Little grebes suffer from the destruction of the wetland habitat and from pollution. In Iran, these birds are hunted and sold for food. Little grebes are also susceptible to outbreaks of avian influenza.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List, the total Little grebe population size is around 610,000-3,500,000 individuals. The European population consists of 129,000-208,000 pairs, which equates to 258,000-417,000 mature individuals. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The genus name of the Little grebe comes from Ancient Greek takhus - "fast" and bapto - "to sink under". The specific name 'ruficollis' comes from Latin rufus - "red" and Modern Latin -collis which is translated as "-necked".
  • Little grebes feed their chicks feather; this way their stomachs won't be damaged by fish bones.
  • A group of grebes is known as a "water dance" of grebes.


1. Little Grebe on Wikipedia -
2. Little Grebe on The IUCN Red List site -

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