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Little Grebe

A small diving grebe not uncommon on large lakes, slow moving rivers and sheltered tidal waters 

Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

Little Grebe: the dabchick

Now you see it ... in a moment you won't! You get your camera on to it, focus, shoot and you have a photograph of water, this little chap has gone down again. I reckon that the little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) spends as much time under the water as it does on it, perhaps even more below the surface. It's a good game, watching one dive and then trying to guess where it will reappear - one is never right.

Little grebe or dabchick? Both are accepted names for this bird but it is little and it is a grebe so for me it is the little grebe and the field guides seem to have standardised on this name too.

It is a rather dull, drab little bird in winter but come the spring the breeding plumage comes through and they are transformed into this lovely crimson and black beauty. You can see the little grebe around the waterways of Dorset all year, occasionally on inland stretches of our main rivers but usually on large ponds and near river mouths. They are quite common and freely breed here although easily overlooked because of the time they spend under water.


Common Name Little Grebe
Alternative Name(s) Dabchick
Scientific Name Tachybaptus ruficollis
Species Group Birds Grebes and divers
Status Occasional
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

Small rounded water birds constantly diving for food

Identification Notes
  • Bright red/black breeding plumage and they can be seen on ponds and lakes during the breeding season
  • In winter they lose their colouration and become a drab brown and move to open water in harbours to feed
  • They are frequently diving and then coming up again some distance off and just as you get them in your binoculars they dive again
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Grebes and divers