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Black-necked Grebe - BirdForum Opus

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Alternative name: Eared Grebe

P. n. nigricollis in breeding plumage
Photo by martinuk
Chmielek, Poland, May 2002
Podiceps nigricollis


A medium-small grebe, length 28-34cm (11-13¼ in), wingspan 41-57cm (22½ in), weight 265-450 g.
Adult Breeding

  • Blackish above; browner towards rump
  • Black breast, head and neck
  • Flanks mottled rufous and black
  • Slight crest, peaking at top of head (not rear)
  • Tuft of golden-yellow extends from eye and droops down over ear coverts
  • Red iris
  • Black bill
  • Blackish-grey legs
P. n. nigricollis in winter plumage
Photo by Stuart Read
Alton Water, Suffolk, UK; 15 January 2016

Adult Non-breeding

  • Dull grey-brown and white
  • Appears black and white from a distance
  • Dark crown extends well below eye level and merges with grey ear coverts

Juvenile: Resemble non-breeding adult, but browner with cheeks tinged buff

Flight: Upperwing shows broad white trailing edge to secondaries but lacks white of forewing base seen in Slavonian.

At all seasons slightly upturned bill distinguishes from Slavonian and in non-breeding plumage the more diffuse border between dark and light on head is useful.

P. n. californicus in breeding plumage
Photo by macshark
Shoreline Lake, northern California, April 2009

Dark of crown extends to well below level of eye and merges with grey ear-coverts thus less clearly demarcated compared to Slavonian.

Similar Species

  • Colombian Grebe: this now-extinct [sub]species was very similar, differing only in orangey fore-neck.
  • Slavonian Grebe: larger, with stouter bill not upturned at tip; crest peaks at rear of head; orange neck in summer, more contrastingly black-and-white in winter with white cheeks.
  • Little Grebe: smaller, and much browner-toned in winter plumage when most likely to be confused.
  • Silvery Grebe and Junin Grebe are both structurally very similar to Black-necked Grebe, most resembling Black-necked's winter plumage, but do not overlap in range.


Widespread in the both the Old and New Worlds but with a more southerly range than that of Slavonian Grebe. Migratory in northern parts of range.

  • Europe: Discontinuous breeding range but small populations present in many central and eastern European countries. Largely absent from the north and west but there are small populations in Britain, central and eastern France, Belgium and central and southern Spain. Main range extends from Denmark and eastern Germany eastwards to the southern Urals and Caspian. Patchy range in the south-east with scattered populations in the Balkans and Turkey. The main wintering range in Europe lies from southern Britain and the Netherlands south to Biscay and around much of the Mediterranean and Turkey. In recent decades has begun to winter regularly in the Canary Islands.
  • Asia: Range extends east to central Asia and also breeds in eastern China and the Russian far east, wintering east to Japan and south to southern China.



There are 3 subspecies[1]:

  • P. n. nigricollis:
  • P. n. gurneyi:
  • P. n. californicus:

The subspecies are very similar to each other, only realistically distinguishable by range. The extinct Colombian Grebe may have been better treated as a fourth subspecies, with recent genetic data showing it was embedded within Black-necked Grebe, very closely related to P. n. californicus[2].


Breeds on small and shallow, densely vegetated freshwaters, in Eurasia often in association with Black-headed Gulls or Common Terns. Breeding sites are frequently abandoned in favour of new sites for no apparent reason.

In winter on larger, more open freshwaters, estuaries and sheltered seas.


P. n. nigricollis adult with young
Photo by Leo Tukker
Broekpolder, Vlaardingen, Netherlands, July 2016


Breeding begins mid-April in south of range to June in north, probably year-round in Africa. Breeds colonially, nest is a low mound of vegetation anchored to emergent vegetation in shallow water. Eggs: 3-5 (rarely 2-8), whitish initially soon becoming stained (44 x 30mm). Incubated by both sexes but mainly female for 20-21 days. Young tended by both sexes but divide brood in later stages, young able to feed themselves at 14 days, independent at 21 days. Single-brooded, possibly double-brooded at times.


Aquatic insects and their larvae, small fish, amphibians and crustaceans.


A wide range of calls when breeding including a display trill, a whistling bidder-widder-widder and a low poo-eep. Alarm call is whit repeated 2-3 times.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2017. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2017, with updates to August 2017. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Ogawa, L. M., et al. (2015). Opposing demographic histories reveal rapid evolution in grebes (Aves: Podicipedidae). The Auk 132: 771–786.

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