The great crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus) is a member of the grebe family of water birds and is noted for its elaborate mating display. It is the largest member of the grebe family found in Europe, but some larger species live in America. They measure 18–20 in long with a 23–29 in wingspan. It is an excellent swimmer and diver, and pursues its fish prey underwater. The adults are unmistakable in summer with the head and neck decorations that give it its name. In winter, this is whiter than most grebes, with white above the eye, and a pink bill.
The great crested grebe breeds in weedy areas of freshwater lakes. The species has an elaborate mating display. Like all grebes, it nests on the water's edge, since its legs are set relatively far back and it is thus unable to walk very well. Usually two eggs are laid, and the fluffy, striped young grebes are often carried on the adult's back.
The most remarkable aspect of the bird's behaviour is its mating courtship display.
The great crested is the most handsome of our native grebe species, with a long sharp bill, fiery orange head plumage and a spiky crest. This headgear is an essential part of the mating dance.
When male and female great crested grebes meet, both birds raise their crests, flare their throat feathers and mantle their wings. Alternately, the birds bob and shake their heads, remaining beak to beak for long periods. The birds then make synchronised dives and emerge holding weed in their bills. They then rear up, chest to chest, feet paddling madly and offer each other a weedy present.