Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)



Great Crested Grebe © Steve Round

Great Crested Grebe © Steve Round

In winter most (96 out of 124 tetrads) of the Great Crested Grebes’ breeding areas are also occupied, probably by the same individuals, with the birds either remaining resident year-round or returning to make an early start to the breeding season; a century ago Coward (1910) noted that ‘… in autumn and early winter the numbers on the meres are frequently less than at the end of the breeding season, but in January and February, especially after gales, there is often a marked increase’. They usually pair during mid- to late-winter, Simon Wood seeing courtship display on 7 January 2007 at Rudheath (SJ77K). Of the 28 that were vacated in winter, 20 of them are tetrads newly occupied since the First Atlas, perhaps suggesting that they are more marginal sites and that it was their unsuitability in winter that left them unused previously.

In addition, 62 tetrads were occupied in winter only, most of them off the north Wirral coast and in the estuaries, where they favour the deeper waters in the centre of the channel. The saltwater habitats were adjudged to be 2 open shore, 9 open sea, 1 brackish lagoon (West Kirby Marine Lake) and 31 estuarine. There was little difference from the breeding season in the freshwater habitats submitted: 1 pond; 9 small water-body; 71 lake/ unlined reservoir; 7 lined reservoir; 18 sand pit, etc; 6 river; 1 small canal and 3 large canal. Their diet is much the same all year round, fish that they catch by swimming underwater.

The north-west corner of the Wirral is the place to find the highest numbers of Great Crested Grebes. 120 were off Hoylake (SJ29A) in 2004/ 05, with 100 off Hilbre (SJ18Z) in 2005/ 06 but these were trumped by an amazing flock off Dove Point, Meols (SJ29A/ F) on 7 February 2007, counted by Richard Smith at 458 birds and probably the largest flock ever in the county. Otherwise, the median count from the 232 submitted counts was just four birds, and only 29 flocks were in double figures. The largest inland flocks were on Marbury (Budworth) Mere (SJ67N), peaking at 36 birds in 2006/ 07. Nowhere in the county approaches the threshold for national importance by regularly holding 159 birds each winter.

WeBS counts show that many British sites record large differences in numbers of Great Crested Grebes from one winter to another, for reasons unknown. Similarly the migrations of grebes are poorly understood (Migration Atlas) although some birds from continental Europe have been found in southern England. Nothing is known of the movements of Cheshire and Wirral birds.

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