Podicipedidae – Grebes

One could learn superfast dives from these little ‘water witches’!

The family Podicipedidae includes freshwater diving birds known as grebes, which are found on every continent except Antarctica. This family encompasses a variety of species, each adapted to life in and around water bodies such as lakes, ponds, rivers, and marshes.

Grebes are indeed remarkable swimmers and divers. Their bodies are streamlined for aquatic efficiency, with dense, water-resistant plumage that provides buoyancy and insulation. Their toes are not fully webbed like those of ducks, but instead have lobes that increase the surface area, aiding in powerful propulsion through water. This adaptation, along with their small heads and thin necks, allows grebes to chase after fish and invertebrates with agility and speed.

The diet of grebes primarily includes fish and a range of aquatic invertebrates, which they catch with quick lunges or extended dives underwater. They are also known to consume aquatic vegetation and, occasionally, small amphibians.

Grebes exhibit a fascinating array of behaviors, especially during the breeding season. They are monogamous, with both males and females participating in elaborate courtship displays. One of the most iconic rituals is the “weed ceremony,” where mating pairs perform a synchronized dance, diving to collect weeds and then rising to the water’s surface, paddling furiously while facing each other and presenting the gathered vegetation.

Nesting is another remarkable aspect of grebe behavior. They construct their nests as floating platforms anchored to submerged aquatic vegetation. These nests are made from plant material and are often hidden in reeds to protect the eggs from predators. Both parents share the responsibility of building the nest, incubating the eggs, and caring for the young.

Despite their strong swimming abilities, grebes are somewhat clumsy on land due to their rear-set legs, which are an adaptation for swimming but make walking difficult. Therefore, grebes avoid coming ashore except for nesting.