Photographing Great Crested Grebes

Photographing Great Crested Grebes

The Great Crested Grebe is an elegant waterbird with ornate head plumage that swims buoyantly and dives under the water to feed. Building floating nests in vegetation around fresh water. In early spring they perform an elaborate courtship display in which they rise high out of the water and shake their heads.

Photographing the Great Crested Grebe

The first time I saw images of the Great Crested Grebe I knew I wanted to photograph them. Not knowing of any locations I decided to do a quick internet search of any local spots where I could potentially find them. Luckily enough one popped up at just a short 8 minute drive away at a small local reservoir.

Not knowing exactly what stages the courtships were at I quickly made my first visit to scout the area and find possible positions to set up. Being a place where fishing is allowed there were numerous fishing platforms around the reservoir for me to set up and get nice and low to the waters edge. This is quickly where I realised my tripod wasn’t really up to getting that low, so I quickly purchased a new Benro one with a short centre column to achieve this.

Visit more than once

Just one visit is never enough so I planned to go at least once a week and spend a good few hours just sat watching and getting what images I could capture. The Uk weather doesn’t always work in your favour so based on that, I had to make last minute decisions to go and visit. My first few visits I felt I didn’t really come away with much but that was just a case of getting used to my surroundings and getting used to the Grebes, after the third visit the images started to work for me.

For some reason I didn’t quite get to see many opportunities of the courtships. There was only a handful of encounters of this ritual. Maybe I was just there at the wrong time. This didn’t stop me though, I felt I was invested and wanted to follow these birds right through to nesting and hatching.

Image to show Great Crested Grebe courtship or mating
Image to show Great Crested Grebe nesting
Nesting Great Crested Grebe


Roughly three weeks after my first visit I noticed the first nest being built. A quick check online to see how long it may take the for eggs to hatch revealed I would have to wait roughly a month. I still made the effort to visit at least once a week to check on the progress and use the time to photograph the other birds on the reservoir which included keeping an eye on the swans nesting site.

Hatching and disaster

The first eggs hatched midweek which at that point I didn’t know had happened as my visits were mainly at the weekend. I made my usual visit early on a Sunday morning and got talking to a few other photographers that were also photographing the Great Crested Grebes. Unfortunately the chicks were killed a day after they hatched during the midweek storm which what I remember was pretty bad. That opportunity was lost but don’t give up, back to the drawing board I went.

Luckily… the following week a couple more nests popped up, that waiting period started once more.


One month later the second of the nests gave us three Great Crested Grebe chicks. I was so glad to see the black and white striped chicks riding on their parents back. The down side was this nest was probably the worst positioned of them all, with high banks surrounding the nesting site I felt I was always shooting from above them and they didn’t stray to far from the nest. There is one more nest in a prime spot but at the time of writing this the eggs still remain intact, so fingers crossed in the next few weeks there will be more images to come.

Thanks for reading this blog post on Photographing Great Crested Grebes.

I will be looking forward to next years opportunity.

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